A top-four finish to the regular season is now the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys’ to lose after a 24-16 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney tonight.
Heading into hostile territory with a vocal Belmore Sports Ground crowd baying for victory, the Cowboys produced a masterful controlled game to best their top four rivals, who rallied late thanks to former Cowboy Curtis Rona.
Co-captain Johnathan Thurston displayed wonderful control with his kicking game to control territory for the most part, while back-row tyros Ethan Lowe (two tries), Coen Hess (one) and Jason Taumalolo (one) scored the visitors' tries.
Billed as a battle for the top four with just one regular season game remaining, this Round 25 opener featured stout defence from both sides in the opening half, especially from the hosts.
Scoring first in the 10th minute when back-rower Greg Eastwood streaked away for an intercept try, the hosts spent most of the next 30 minutes in defence as wave after wave of Cowboys attacks were repelled.
The visitors did cross via Ethan Lowe in the 20th minute – as Michael Morgan laid on the perfect short-side inside ball – but apart from that, it was the Dogs’ defence that stole the show.
At one point, the Cowboys had no less than six repeat sets, but with a lack of crispness in execution and desperate defending, couldn’t crack it for a second.
The Bulldogs started the second half full of running and had an on-field awarded try overruled by the bunker.
Moments later, thanks to a classic Johnathan Thurston show-and-go, the Cowboys were over for their second try and Ethan Lowe loomed up on his skipper’s shoulder for the double.
Lowe was nearly over for a third after again running off Thurston but moments later, the man who laid on his first – Michael Morgan – put young tearaway Coen Hess over for his third NRL try in just his fifth NRL game.
Bulldogs winger Rona saluted in the 74th minute but time ran out for the hosts, as Taumalolo smashed over for his sixth try of the year in the closing stages.
Eastwood would score his second in the final minute but the Cowboys’ win was already secured by that stage.
The Cowboys now round out the regular season with a game against the Gold Coast Titans in Townsville, a win there meaning a week one finals match against the Storm in Melbourne.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 24 (Ethan Lowe 2, Coen Hess, Jason Taumalolo tries; Johnathan Thurston goal, pen. goal) def CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 16 (Greg Eastwood 2, Curtis Rona tries; Kerrod Holland 2 goals) at Belmore Sports Ground.