The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have shut out the Canterbury Bulldogs 36-0 in a seven-try rout to cement third position on the National Rugby League ladder and set up a mouth-watering 2 vs 3 clash with the Melbourne Storm next Saturday.
With doubt over co-captain and playmaking ace Johnathan Thurston (hamstring injury), the Cowboys have a full nine days to prepare for the match after a brilliant display against the Bulldogs in front of a raucous 1300SMILES Stadium crowd.
THE KNOCK-ON EFFECT
After exchanging fairly unthreatening sets to start the match, the Cowboys got the first little win when co-captain Thurston forced a turnover 15m out from the Bulldogs line.
After a couple of settling runs from the scrum win, the Cowboys simply shifted the ball to the left using one decoy runner with Kane Linnett doing marvellously to pass the ball to winger Winterstein in traffic.
The veteran outside back still had plenty to do and used pure strength and determination to force his way over for the opening try of the game.
Thurston added the extras.
WINTER(STEIN) IS COMING
Not content with a lightning-quick opener, the recently re-signed Winterstein posted his double within the opening eight minutes, again showing great power and will to ground the ball in traffic.
The lead-up was similar to the first four-pointer, where the Bulldogs gifted the Cowboys prime field position – this time through a conceded penalty – and the NQ backline continued to sing as fullback Lachlan Coote produced a lovely floating pass for the try assist … and like that it was 12-0 as that man JT continued his stellar goal-kicking form.
Thurston’s opening two conversions from out wide gave him 69 goals from 78 attempts this year, or a stunning success rate of 88 per cent.
KICKING GAME ON SONG
When they weren’t scoring tries down the left edge, the Cowboys were forcing Bulldogs’ restarts as Thurston and Coote brought their short kicking game along to 1300SMILES Stadium.
With the field playing a little slower than normal due to a week of drizzle, the playmaking pair were dynamic with ball on ball, dribbling neat grubbers into the in-goal and backing it up with strong chase defence to force multiple restarts.
With Winterstein knocking up scoring tries, it was the right edge’s time to shine in the 24th minute as Javid Bowen – coming into the side for the suspended Kyle Feldt – saluted out wide as Thurston drew three defenders then ballooned a perfect pass over the top to an unmarked Bowen.
With his NRL career just five games old, Bowen has scored four tries for as good a strike rate as you could wish for to start your first-grade journey.
STATS ALL FOLKS
Taking a 16-0 lead into the break, the Cowboys dominated every stat … they had a whopping 68% of possession, and completed at an astonishing 94%, or 17 of 18 sets.
The Bulldogs, as well as being starved of footy, didn’t do a whole heap with what little they had and completed at 62% (eight of 13 sets).
JT INJURY SCARE
Starting the second half off in sublime fashion with Justin O’Neill’s opening try of a double, the Cowboys had a shiver sent through the camp with captain courageous Thurston taken off with a hamstring injury.
But his teammates rallied and defended stoutly as the Bulldogs continued to unravel with poor discipline and handling despite good possession flow for extended periods.
Ethan Lowe, who also assumed goal-kicking duties, also crossed, as did Winterstein – again – to post a hat-trick as the home side shut out their top-four rivals.
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys 36 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Justin O’Neill 2, Javid Bowen, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 2, Lowe 2 goals) def Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 11,630.