The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys National Youth Competition side are outright competition leaders following a gritty 24-10 win over the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium tonight.
The young Cowboys notched their 12th straight win and leapfrogged the Panthers into pole position with 41 competition points after Penrith were shock losers to the 15th-placed Dragons on Thursday night.
It was a gutsy win given several disruptions to the team’s preparation, most notably barnstorming prop Viliame Kikau being a late exclusion and Cody Maughan rushed into the side for his NYC debut.
But thanks to a brilliant team defensive effort in a competition where high total points scores are the rule rather than the exception, the Cowboys are now in the box seat for the minor premiership with two games remaining.
Halves Cooper Bambling and Kyle Laybutt - ably assisted by rookie fullback Kalyn Ponga - were again among the Cowboys’ best, but collective credit must go to the forward pack, with pocket rocker prop Dave Munro leading the way with a sterling effort after being promoted to the starting line-up given Kikau’s absence.
A 14-4 at halftime gave the team confidence heading into the break, with tries to winger Gideon Mosby – his 32nd this season – Laybutt and Mitch Dunn setting the side up for another impressive win.
Mosby’s try, the first of the match, showcased his trademark speed as he gathered a loose ball and streaked 80m downfield to salute. The Warriors squared up four minutes later before Laybutt showed great speed and evasion to wriggle his way over in the 30th minute before a 32nd-minute special to Dunn broke the game open. Dunn was on the end of several passes set up by a Ponga line break off a superb Laybutt inside ball.
A trademark Braden Uele barge over off another Laybutt pass one minute into the second half extended the lead before Warriors halfback erin Clark crossed six minute later. Ponga’s seventh try in just five games restored the lead and the Cowboys held on for the last 23 minutes for their 18th win of the season.
After the match, Cowboys captain Kieran Quabba gathered his players in a huddle and told him how proud he was of their efforts.
The Cowboys can all but lock up the minor premiership with a win over the Storm in Melbourne next Saturday.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS NYC 24 (Gideon Mosby, Kyle Laybutt, Braden Uele, Mitch Dunn, Kalyn Ponga tries; Laybutt 2 goals) def NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS NYC 10 (Levi McBirney, Erin Clark; Kauri Aupouri goal).