The North Queensland Cowboys have had the perfect hit out ahead of the 2015 National Rugby League finals with an impressive 42-12 Round 26 win over the Gold Coast Titans at 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Cowboys will now meet the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium next week in the first week of the finals and finished their regular season in third place on 38 points with 17 wins and seven losses from their 24 games to punctuate what was already the best season in club history.
The home side again conceded early points as the Titans raced to a 12-0 lead after 11 minutes but that was to be their only joy as the Cowboys turned on the afterburners in the second half with six tries, turning a 16-12 halftime lead into the 42-12 rout.
After starting strongly with their opening two attacking sets punctuated by incisive runs and huge net gains in possession, the wheels quickly fell off on the back of a conceded penalty.
A Titans break midfield ended with former Cowboy Kalifa Fiafia Loa leaping over Justin O’Neill to take a pin-point kick and touch down after eight minutes. A minute earlier, Titans back rower Agnatius Passi crossed the line after a bizarre double-strip involving him and Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt. That play was ruled a no-try, but an energetic Titans team wasn’t done yet.
Three minutes later, Titans fullback Josh Hoffman saluted following a six-to-go call and some direct running. It was 12-0 after 11 minutes and the Cowboys’ notorious slow starts to matches continued.
But on the back of some territory via back-to-back penalties, the Cowboys came to life with three tries in 10 minutes as Ray Thompson, Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein crossed to turn a 12-point deficit into a 16-12 lead.
Thompson’s effort was a classy blind-side run and dummy to bring up his 11th career try, while Linnett and Winterstein put polished finishes on some dazzling passing and running.
The Cowboys then gave away a rash of penalties to gift the Titans field position, which almost led to bullocking forward Dave Taylor barging over, only to be held up over the line.
A massive 11 penalties were blown in the first half, the Cowboys committing six indiscretions to the Titans’ five as the sides went into halftime with the Cowboys holding the 16-12 lead.
The Cowboys made a perfect start to the second half with fullback Lachlan Coote scything over three minutes in as the home side shot to a 20-12 lead.
That scoring play, though, didn’t open the floodgates as the Titans dug in to spend the next five minutes camped on the Cowboys’ tryline. North Queensland repelled wave after wave of attack, including a narrow escaped as speedy centre James Roberts nearly dived on a kick.
When the Cowboys finally regained some turf, they crossed again as back rower slid over following select passing from Jake Granville and Johnathan Thurston.
Granville was again in the thick of it minutes later as he doggedly chased his own kick and then bravely batted the ball back for Winterstein to drop on the ball for his second.
And then the nippy No. 9 scored one himself in the 70th minutes as the floodgates opened.
The try-fest continued as James Tamou and then Linnett – for his second – closed out the 42-12 result.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 42 (Antonio Winterstein 2, Kane Linnett 2, Ray Thompson, Lachlan Coote, Gavin Cooper, Jake Granville, James Tamou tries; Johnathan Thurston 2, Kyle Feldt goals) def GOLD COAST TITANS 12 (Kalifa Faifai Loa, Josh Hoffman tries; Kane Elgey 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. CROWD: 16,697.