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2021 NRL Round 11, Cowboys 36 Knights 20 – Report

Shannon Meyer reviews a action-packed encounter in Townsville between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights.

SCOREBOARD

Cowboys 36

Tries: Murray Taulagi (6, 17, 52), Reece Robson (10), Valentine Holmes (59), Mitchell Dunn (69), Heilum Luki (76).

Goals: Valentine Holmes (8, 11, 61, 77).

Knights 20

Tries: Sauaso Sue (23), Enari Tuala (27), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (30), Starford To’a (46).

Goals: Mitchell Barnett (24) Phoenix Crossland (32).

Player of the Year Points

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3 pts – Murray Taulagi (North Queensland Cowboys)
2 pts – Valentine Holmes (North Queensland Cowboys)
1 pt – Scott Drinkwater (North Queensland Cowboys)

MATCH REPORT

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1st Half

This looked like a lower midfield clash between two sides who were meandering through the 2021 season on paper, but the paper was wrong and this was a Thursday night game with plenty to offer.

After a standard opening few exchanges, the Cowboys showed the first intent for some genuine attack with a half break that they weren’t quite able to finish off. They did so soon enough the very next set.

Quick hands down the left for the Cowboys saw Murray Taulagi in space down the wing from the 40 metre line and – as his sideline run looked to be coming to an end – he threw a dummy to the wing, jinked infield, beat a trio of would-be tacklers and opened the scoring for the Cowboys. The best of those quick passes was from Valentine Holmes who looked sharp already. He secured an extra two points with the conversion and the Cowboys were out of the gates: 6-0 after eight minutes.

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Next set there was a penalty for obstructing the Cowboys’ kick chase. It gave the Cowboys another opportunity to attack the Knights’ line and it didn’t go to waste. The Cowboys needed just three tackles to score their second try as Reece Robson found Shane Wright close to the line who charged towards the Knights’ defence and then offered up an offload that the Cowboys hooker was on hand for and he scored untouched. The conversion made it 12-0.

North Queensland were inspired at this stage and went the length of the field for their next set as well, which ended in a penalty for the Knights for a push in the back as Jake Clifford chipped and chased.

After the spree of discipline that was handed out at Magic Round last weekend, you could imagine many were looking to see if the trend continued into round 11. The first report of the night came in the 15th minute on Connelly Lemuelu for a lifting tackle. The penalty gave Newcastle the ball close the Cowboys line and they did cross the line in the right corner through Starford To’a, but it was overruled by the match officials for an obstruction with the cut-out pass/dummy run.

North Queensland punished the Knights in the next set. Like the first try, Scott Drinkwater and Holmes were involved with quick hands to the left and it was scored by Taulagi, but this time the Cowboys winger only had five metres to run and was met with little Newcastle resistance. The sideline conversion hit the post for the Cowboys’ only mistake of the night to that point; however it was 16-0 to the good after the first quarter of the game.

A few minutes later, and helped with a set restart, the Knights had their first points of the evening. Halfback Phoenix Crossland decided to run himself 10 metres out, and after a fine dummy and jink he was able to offload in a tackle inside to Lachlan Fitzgibbon who then provided one himself to Sauaso Sue who dived over from close to the line. The easy conversion from Mitchell Barnett made it 16-6.

The first sin bin of the evening (Jason Taumalolo) came for high contact on Tyson Frizzell, which looked like a lazy arm hung out by the Cowboys enforcer, but it was enough to raise the ire of Ashley Klein and enough for Frizzell to leave the field with a bloody nose. This came moments after Kyle Feldt was placed on report for a crusher tackle. With 15 minutes to go in the first half the Cowboys still had a 10-point lead, but were now down to 12 players, and had three looking at judiciary action.

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Newcastle took advantage within minutes as Enari Tuala scored a fine individual try as he slid past and charged through some ineffective Cowboys backline defence from 20 metres out, reaching out to score as he was finally tackled close to the line. Crossland kicked his first ever conversion and now it was 16-12 to the Cowboys but they still had five minutes to go with 12 players.

Make that 11 players on the field as Lachlan Burr earned his second consecutive sin binning, with a high tackle on Jayden Brailey. The Newcastle hooker had side-stepped the Cowboys forward and was off balance, but the contact was high and the ruling consistent with last week. One had to start checking if the Fox League score graphic would be long enough for the potential sin bin total.

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Once again Newcastle made the Cowboys pay, and although North Queensland were light on numbers in defence on the right, they made it very easy for Fitzgibbon to breeze through their defensive line from 10 metres out to score the Knights’ third try. Lemuelu was not having a good night: he again made a poor attempt for a tackle and was already on report. The conversion evened the score at 16-16 with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half.

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Taumalolo returned to the field but the Cowboys were still a man down, and they were just holding on at this point. A fine Taulagi interception was a case in point for their desperation and his fine night. But the Cowboys soon lost Francis Molo to HIA and Holmes was hobbling. How fortunes change so quick when the Cowboys looked on for a good night at 16-0 early.

There was action right to the end as the bounce of the ball and an alert Taulagi prevented Newcastle from a half-time lead and Simi Sasagi his first NRL try.

HALF-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 16 Newcastle Knights 16

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2nd Half

A quieter start to the second half saw five minute pass before anything notable, which was a repeat set for the Knights after Holmes was unable to get out of the in-goal.

To prove the worth of the repeat set, the very next set Newcastle had taken the lead with their fourth try. It was a decent effort from To’a as a short side play saw the ball come his way, but the backhanded offload from Sasagi to the winger was well above To’a’s head, but he grabbed it with ease and slammed the ball down in the corner for a 20-16 lead as the sideline conversion was missed.

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At least the Cowboys had 13 players on the field now, although Molo was ruled out for the rest of the evening from the earlier HIA. They were lucky to keep it at 13 as debutant Heilum Luki was placed on report for a high tackle. That made it four for the night, and the Intrust Super Cup feeder sides Blackhawks, Pride, and Cutters were on alert for players needed for next week.

There was still a game to be won this weekend and the Cowboys levelled things up with some overdue ball. They went to the long blindside late in the tackle count and Drinkwater delivered a long cut-out pass that bounced its way to an unmarked Taulagi waiting on the left wing to score his third try for the night. The score was 20-20 and the Cowboys were looking good again with 13 players and the ball and more than a quarter of the game remaining.

On the back of a rare Knights error and a set restart, the Cowboys were pressuring the Newcastle line and eventually it was the Holmes who got first try of the night after already having a hand in others’ efforts. His slicing run through the right-side defence of Newcastle from 10 metres out made it look just a little bit easy, much like the conversion which gave the Cowboys a 26-20 lead.

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Somehow the Cowboys had hit the lead after being down to 11 players at one stage. And with confidence and some ball, the Cowboys were playing Rugby Sevens-style entertaining football at times. But the pace of the game was starting to hurt both sides, with some basic errors creeping into the game.

Javid Bowen crossed in the 66th minute for the Cowboys, but the try was disallowed for a knock on in the aerial contest just before the ball found its way to Bowen.

The Cowboys extended their lead with a slice of luck in the 70th minute after a Drinkwater grubber to the right on the fifth tackle ended between two Newcastle defenders who ran into each other and not the ball, and the aftermath of the collision allowed a nearby Mitchell Dunn to score easily enough. The conversion was missed but the Cowboys had 10-point lead with less than 10 to go.

Newcastle were given an golden opportunity to close the gap late in the second half, but came up short despite repeat sets on the Cowboys line.

North Queensland then went on to settle the game with a few minutes remaining as Luki scored a try on debut: the big forward crashing over from close to the line after a short dummy half run from Jake Granville, who had been an excellent addition with his speed from dummy half in the second half. Luki was emotional after scoring in one of the nicer moments captured for the evening. Holmes slotted the conversion for the eventual final score of 36-20.

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For the Cowboys, it was not only a good result to temporarily sneak into the final eight, but the manner of the performance could possibly give coach Todd Payten a reason to be happy for the weeks ahead. They held on whilst down players in the first half, and then looked the more dangerous side in attack once the playing numbers were evened.

North Queensland did show signs of this against the Roosters the previous weekend, but this week the sin bins didn’t cost them more.

But they do now have four players on report, as the NRL unsurprisingly did not back down on the focus on discipline seen the previous weekend.

Newcastle looked good in the first half and this was before they had the numerical advantage, but lacked a little quality in the second half and may regret not going a little harder at the Cowboys when they had two more players. A player like Kalyn Ponga could have really made the difference in Townsville tonight.

North Queensland have a decent run now with some winnable games in their next four, including a return match in Newcastle. A performance like tonight may give them the inspiration to go on a late season charge for the finals.

FULL-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 36 Newcastle Knights 20

Injuries

Francis Molo (Cowboys) – Failed HIA
Connelly Lemuelu (Cowboys) – fractured thumb

Match Review Committee

Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys) – Grade 2 High Tackle Careless – Early Guilty Plea 1 match ban, Guilty at Judiciary 2 match ban.
Lachlan Burr (Cowboys) – Grade 1 High Tackle Careless – Early Guilty Plea 1 match ban, Guilty at Judiciary 2 match ban.

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