The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have fallen 14-10 to the St George Illawarra Dragons in an enthralling Round 12 National Rugby League clash in Wollongong tonight.
Trailing 10-4 at half time, the Cowboys levelled the scores in the 46th minute through second-gamer Jahrome Hughes, but a costly error in the 61st minute led to the Dragons scoring the go-ahead try, with the home side hanging on bravely for 18 minutes as the Cowboys pressed hard.
Playing without their State of Origin-encamped contingent, the brave Cowboys completed at 89% (39/44) but couldn’t land the hammer blow to go ahead despite enjoying a glut of possession towards game’s end.
The loss is the Cowboys’ fourth of 2016 and leaves the team fourth on the NRL ladder after 12 games.
BLOWING THE PEA OUT OF THE WHISTLE
The first half featured three tries – two to the Dragons and one to the Cowboys – but was dominated by the referee's whistle.
A massive 14 penalties were blown during the period, with the Cowboys at one stage trailing in the count 7-3.
It ended up 7-7, but the stop-start nature of the contest robbed it of any free-flowing appeal in the opening 40 minutes.
And that was a real shame because both teams were completing at a sublime rate: the Dragons were 19/20 sets completed in the first half – or 95% – while the visitors were a perfect 21 from 21 sets completed.
BUT, IN SAYING THAT…
The Cowboys, though, were their own worst enemies in the first half, conceding numerous penalties at the back end of sets, with infringements leading indirectly to both of the Dragons’ tries in that opening stanza.
Jason Nightingale and Kurt Mann were the beneficiaries of great backline plays involving decoy runners against fatiguing defenders.
FELDT LIKE REDEMPTION
One week after being in the spotlight for first-half errors in the opening half against the Broncos, Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt showed why he is one of the best finishers in the game with a spectacular try in the 36th minute.
The Townsville product leapt over Nightingale to collect a perfectly-placed Lachlan Coote kick and showed great composure to remain on his feet and improve the position.
It mattered little as Ethan Lowe missed the conversion and the Cowboys trailed the Dragons 10-4 at the break.
OUT OF THE BLOCKS
Playing his second NRL game and debuting for the Cowboys, fullback inclusion Hughes showed why he has been an Intrust Super Cup excitement machine with a sublime solo try in the 46th minute.
Hughes dazzled several Dragons defenders down the short side with a dummy, deft footwork and speed to put the Cowboys within two points of their hosts.
Lowe showed poise to add the extras after shanking his first attempt and the scores were locked at 10-all.
The Cowboys would continue to be peerless with the ball in hand, and didn’t make their first handling error until they completed their first 28 sets.
Now firmly in the ascendancy, the Cowboys were pushing to take the lead when it all went pear-shaped in a horror two-minute period.
Pushing for too much in a touch-finder off a penalty, Cowboys five-eighth Coote failed to clear the ball.
The very same set, centre Euan Aitken scored down the other end for a 14-10 Dragons advantage with time ticking down.
It was to be enough as the desperate Dragons defence held out repeated Cowboys raids to earn their sixth win of the season.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 14 (Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann, Euan Aitken tries; Gareth Widdop goal) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 10 (Kyle Feldt, Jahrome Hughes tries; Ethan Lowe goal) at WIN Stadium. Crowd: 10,032.