The North Queensland Cowboys have stolen victory at the death against the Newcastle Knights, a vintage Johnathan Thurston pass helping to seal just the third win at home in Townsville for 2018.
The Knights led until the 78th minute when back rower Gavin Cooper scored the match-winner at 1300 Smiles Stadium after the fine lead-up work by Thurston.
The final pass from fullback Te Maire Martin to Cooper appeared a little suspect, but referee Henry Perenara pointed to the spot despite protestations from Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce.
It was Pearce who was in the thick of the action early helping his second rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon find space, coincidently between Thurston and Cooper to score the first points early in the night [2nd minute of play].
Kalyn Ponga returning to the Knights backline after four weeks out [hamstring] split his former Cowboys teammates out wide.
Match: Cowboys v Knights
Round 20 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
The next set and brought two consecutive penalties against the Cowboys and Aidan Guerra strolled through virtually untouched in the 9th minute to go 12-0.
The first chance for Cowboys points came with Justin O'Neill in the 17th minute but cover defence from Ponga and teammate Sione Mata'utia pushed him over the sideline.
Unfortunately for the Knights the penalties did mount up, and Danny Levi was sent to the sin bin after his side's repeated infringements.
The extra man did wonders for the Cowboys, Thurston finding O'Neill unmarked on the wing with him diving over before anyone from Newcastle was within 10 metres. The scoreline looked far more respectable at 12-6 as the Cowboys searched for just their fifth win of the season.
The game fell into an arm-wrestle until Kane Linnett gave away a penalty for a shoulder charge, and Fitzgibbon was again the man to profit from the error, strolling through [33rd minute] on the back of a Jack Cogger pass.
A see-sawing 10 minutes opened the second half, before the Cowboys went close with Scott Bolton - held up by Fitzgibbon.
A second attempt was all the home side needed - a short pass from Thurston to Coen Hess allowing the massive back-rower to crash over the line [49th] for just his fifth try of the year.
Then Thurston must have felt it was about time he scored. He chased an O'Neill kick inside to score just his second try for 2018. Converting his own try and the Cwoboys were hot on the Knights heels trailing by two [18-16].
They looked to score again when Ben Hampton made a line-break from dummy-half, but a slip into Ponga's knees led to the interchange hooker being helped from the field with a rib injury [55th minute]. He did not return.
From there the Knights tried hard to hold on for their third win in a row, but Cooper put an end to that.
News & Notes: ... The Cowboys have won their past four games against the Knights.... The Cowboys now face the Sydney Roosters in round 21 while the Knights are back home in Newcastle against the Tigers.