The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have been dealt a body blow in their quest for National Youth Competition glory after being edged 34-30 in a golden point thriller in tonight’s qualifying final at Suncorp Stadium.
Leading 30-26 with 30 seconds remaining, the young Cowboys had one foot into Week 3 of the finals after rallying from 12-6 down early in the match to lead the Dragons for most of the second half.
But an 80th-minute try to classy five-eighth Jai Field levelled the scores, the try-scorer failing in his conversion attempt which would have sealed the match in regulation time.
But it only took three minutes of golden-point extra time for the third-placed Dragons to steal the win as seldom-seen winger Matheson Johns bobbed up when it mattered most to rip the heart out of a gallant Cowboys’ effort.
Amazingly, the score at full time – 30-all – was the finishing score in the Round 12 clash between the teams at Wollongong.
On that occasion, Cowboys halfback Cooper Bambling had a chance to win the game with his boot following Nathan Traill’s late try.
He missed that attempt, and today it was the Dragons’ turn to shank a potential match-winner.
It was Traill again who shaped as the late hero for the Cowboys, scoring a superb team try that started the play earlier when centre Enari Tuala spilt the Dragons' defence open.
The 76th-minute try looked to be enough … but someone forgot to tell Field, whose pure pace off the mark skinned a retreating Cowboys defence to tie the ball game up.
While Field and centre Patrick Herbert – who scored a double – were the Dragons’ best, the Cowboys were well served over the park as winger Marcus Jensen took his 2016 try-scoring tally to 26 with a slick double, and hooker Brandon Smith played a knockout game including a blockbusting try where he beat seven defenders.
The Cowboys will play either the Tigers or Eels in an elimination game next weekend, with those two teams duking it out in Sunday’s knockout game.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS NYC 34 (Patrick Herbert 2, Jai Field 2, Izaac Thompson, Keelyn Tuuta-Edwards, Matheson Johns tries; Field 3 goals) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS NYC 30 (Marcus Jensen 2, Enari Tuala, Brandon Smith tries, Nathan Traill; Kalyn Ponga 5 goals) at Suncorp Stadium.