The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys under-20s have emphatically returned to form with a 40-6 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong tonight.
Having dropped their first game for the season last start - a game in which coach Aaron Payne benched five players for disciplinary reasons - the boys from NQ roared back into form with a seven-tries-to-one defeat of the second-placed Dragons.
Things could not have started any better for Payne's men as centre Enari Tuala crossed in the third minute with the Cowboys' first use of the football. The visitors took advantage of slow-moving left-edge Dragons defence as Tuala showed speed and strength on the first play. The Cowboys had just reloaded from the 10m mark following hooker Calum Gahan's unsuccessful dive-over attempt from dummy-half.
But, the Dragons - who sensationally bundled the Cowboys out of the 2016 NYC finals - hit straight back as classy centre Zac Lomax latched on to a perfect cross-field kick and the home side edged ahead 6-4.
The game went to-and-fro for the next 15 minutes before Cowboys fullback Nathan Traill cracked the contest open with a classy try on the right side, the quicksilver custodian slicing through the Dragons defence after slick lead-up work.
Up 10-4, the Cowboys had a chance to extend the lead when rookie winger Murray Taulagi made a great break down the left after latching on to a bomb. But his pass inside was dropped by skipper Mitch Dunn, the hosts breathing a huge sigh of relief.
But Taulagi - playing just his second game in the NYC - wouldn't be denied in the 25th minute, the raw-boned flyer putting the finishing touches on a super-slick backline move to shoot the visitors out to a 14-6 lead, which five-eight Jake Clifford pushed out to 16-6 by halftime with a penalty goal.
That lead was extended minutes upon the resumption of play as hard-working lock Corey Horsburgh saluted and the Cowboys were well on their way to a fifth win from six matches. Clifford added the extras then a second penalty before Tuala raced in his second - which he converted from out wide - and the Cowboys were running away with the contest.
Dunn showed strength and skill to barge over in the 69th minute as the Cowboys all but secured the win. And when Taulagi posted his double in the 74th minute, it was officially a rout.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA NYC COWBOYS 40 (Enari Tuala 2, Murray Taulagi 2, Nathan Traill, Corey Horsburgh, Mitch Dunn tries; Jake Clifford 4 goals, 2 pen. goals) def ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA NYC DRAGONS 6 (Zac Lomax try; Lomax goal) at WIN Stadium.