The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have run hot in the nation’s chilly capital with a superb 31-18 showing against the Canberra Raiders.
Led by the man tasked with helping Queensland to a come-from-behind State of Origin – Michael Morgan – the Cowboys were sublime in both halves, repelling Raiders resistance and mini-comebacks to post a famous victory as they roll into the last third of the season.
The Cowboys were completely dominated by their hosts for field position and possession in the opening exchanges, and went four minutes without even touching the ball. The weight of advantage didn’t take long to show on the scoreboard as the Raiders fired the first effective shot with a third-minute try to backrower Elliott Whitehead. The Cowboys looked to be snuffed out a right-edge raid until a wickedly bouncing ball defied all attempts to nullify the play, the rogue pill eventually falling to Whitehead who buried over in the corner. Ruled a try on-field, before being sent upstairs, the video ref couldn’t find evidence of Jordan Rapana touching to ball in flight and upheld the original decision. Jarrod Croker buried the sideline conversion to give the home side the perfect start to the game.
Brought into the Cowboys as a mid-season recruit from the Penrith Panthers, classy young Kiwi halve Te Maire Martin has been in Townsville less than a fortnight before finding himself in the blue and grey. Brought into the side at the expense of rookie Kyle Laybutt, Martin had a dream debut as he strolled over for a maiden Cowboys try in the 13th minute with one of his first touches of the ball. With Michael Morgan proving a menace with ball in hand, Martin simply had to latch onto a classy offload from his halves partner and stroll eight metres as the visitors hit back in stunning fashion.
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The Cowboys were playing mistake-free, smart, possession-based footy, completing at over 80% and kicking to the corners. So it was sustained pressure that led to their second try in the 30th minute as winger Antonio Winterstein powered over after being on the end of a John Asiata pass from a Gavin Cooper tap-back on a Morgan kick. It was this willingness of a number of players to put their hands up at crucial stages which made the Cowboys’ performance so impressive, the first-half class sealed with a Lachlan Coote field goal as time ran down for a 13-6 lead.
The Raiders – searching for a win after three straight losses – were not done yet, and the halftime advantage was all but rubbed out in the 45th minutes as bench forward Joe Tapine speared over following great lead-up work in broken field play. The hosts were running hot and the Cowboys were looking nervous.
Charged with leading his team around for the rest of the season given Johnathan Thurston’s season-ending injury, classy No.7 Morgan produced a four-minute burst of brilliance with tries in the 55th and 59th minutes, the second a sublime kick-chase and score. The Raiders would hit back thanks to a Nick Cotric long-range solo effort, but Morgan wasn’t done yet and produced a bustling run and line break to put Martin over for his second try and eventual matchwinner as the Cowboys enter their second bye on a high with a 10th season win.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 31 (Te Maire Martin 2, Michael Morgan 2, Antonio Winterstein tries; Ethan Lowe 4 goals, pen. goal; Lachlan Coote field goal) def CANBERRA RAIDERS 18 (Elliott Whitehead, Joe Tapine, Nick Cotric tries; Aidan Sezer 2, Jarrod Croker goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 10,266.