The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s have played their last ever game in this ultimate year of the National Youth Competition, Aaron’s Payne’s young charges falling 30-16 in today’s elimination final against the Manly Sea Eagles at Allianz Stadium.

Trailing 12-6 at the break after conceding six first-half penalties and countless metres of field position through errors, the young Cowboys fought back to 12-10 before the eighth-placed Sea Eagles blitzed their higher-ranked opposition with a hat-track of tries in a 10-minute period to blow the game open.

Captain courageous Mitch Dunn scored a neat individual try in the 68th minute to give the fifth-placed Cowboys some hope down 26-16, but when Sea Eagles backrower Blake Andrews scorched 60m to the tryline in the 76th minute after taking an intercept, the game was as good as over.

Halfback Jake Clifford – who scored the opening try of the match with some neat hole-running – toiled hard all day, and was denied a second through desperate Manly defence. Payne’s men’s were hit early by injury as hooker Calum Gahan (ankle) and winger Michael Carroll (arm) nursing complaints for most of the match.

After the game, Cowboys NYC coach Aaron Payne praised his side for courage shown throughout a successful year, but lamented the uncharacteristically high amount of errors and slew of cheap penalties conceded.

The loss closes the book on the Cowboys’ NYC program, with the NRL disbanding the elite pathways competition in favour for state-based development systems in 2018.

MANLY SEA EAGLES NYC 30 (Tevita Funa 2, Tom Wright, Haumole Olakau’atu, Bilal Maarbani, Blake Andrews tries; Tevita Funa 3 goals) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS NYC 16 (Jake Clifford, Murray Taulagi, Mitch Dunn tries; Clifford 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium.