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2022 NRL Round 14, Cowboys 31 Dragons 12 – Report

Shannon Meyer reviews a dominant win for the Cowboys at home to a poor Dragons side.

MATCHDAY RESULTS

SCOREBOARD

North Queensland Cowboys 31
Tries: Scott Drinkwater (5), Peter Hiku (10), Reece Robson (29), Murray Taulagi (43), Connelly Lemuelu (79)
Goals: Valentine Holmes 5 (6, 12, 22 – pen, 30, 80)
One-Point Field Goal: Chad Townsend (73)

St George Illawarra Dragons 12
Tries: Moses Suli (36), Jaydn Su’A (74)
Goals: Zac Lomax 2 (37, 75)

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MATCH REPORT

1st Half

A colder-than-usual Townsville met the Cowboys and Dragons for a later-than-usual kick-off to the NRL weekend. The Cowboys have been one of the great stories so far this season with their turnaround, but a tricky fixture awaited given the Origin stars backing up, and the Cowboys’ ordinary record on a Friday and against Sydney teams at home this season.

After the teams traded errors early it was the Cowboys who hit the front early. After the Cowboys were gifted set restarts by the ill-disciplined Dragons, Scott Drinkwater opened up the scoring for North Queensland. It was set-up by a charging Coen Hess, who stormed his way through the line and provided the perfect inside offload to Drinkwater with Jack Bird still desperately hanging onto his jersey. The conversion beside the posts made it 6-0 after seven minutes.

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There were real danger signs for the Dragons as the Cowboys threw the ball around with gusto straight from the kick-off, and again were reward by yet another set restart – the third in the opening eight minutes. After a repeat set from an early kick in-goal, the Cowboys doubled their lead from the next set. The try was set up by Drinkwater this time, with a perfect grubber kick close to the line that was chased best by Peter Hiku, and it looked way too easy. Another easy two points for Valentine Holmes lifted the score to 12-0.

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Once the Dragons finally got the ball they looked ok in attack, but they would need more than their unspectacular last play options they were offering to break a Cowboys’ defence which has been so hard to break this season.

A play in the 20th minute that would likely sum up both team’s night was when the Dragons earned a drop out from the Cowboys. The home team then opted for the short drop-out which originally didn’t make the 10 metres but then bounced the minimum requirement, then was collected by a Cowboys player, who passed it backwards, and then earned a penalty when the Dragons were penalised for a second effort tackle trying to push the Cowboys’ player into touch.

Not long after, another penalty for a late tackle on Tom Dearden gifted the home side two more points and a 14-point lead. This increase to the lead was soured by the news Heilum Luki was gone for the night with an ACL injury.

The Dragons had a decent period after that, with NRL debutant Jonathon Reuben taking an intercept and running 50 metres before being swarmed by the Cowboys’ defence. That led to another set close to the line after a Cowboys knock-on from the last tackle kick. The Dragons crossed the line for what looked like their first try from the subsequent set, but was rule out correctly for obstruction.

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North Queensland punished them just a few tackles later, with Griffin Neame slicing through some paper-thin defence on the halfway line; Cowboys hooker Reece Robson was in support to complete the final 30 metres. The line breaks were set up by Jason Taumalolo, who was having some kind of impact. So instead of the Dragons reducing the gap to eight points, they were now down by 20 with still 10 minutes left on the half. Lack of discipline was completely ruining their night.

A try before halftime would give the Dragons a boost that could save themselves, and this game as a contest, and Moses Suli did just that with four minutes to go to the break. He charged onto a fine Ben Hunt cut-out pass close to the line, and did well as he juggled the ball but regained as he scored under heavy Cowboys pressure. Lomax made the conversion look easy and it was a more respectable 20-6. That 12-point turnaround was hurting the Dragons.

The Dragons were on the attack again from the kick-off, and looked like they could reduce the deficit even further, but a good Jaydn Su’A run ended up over the sideline, killing another golden opportunity.

North Queensland took a 20-6 lead to the break, and while they deserved it based on their first half performance, with a little more discipline and better tackling the Dragons could have been right in this contest. As is stands at half-time they needed to make up a margin of 14 points against a side that has conceded just 3.3 points in the second half of games this season and just 10 points in their last eight second halves…

HALF-TIME: North Queensland 20 St George Illawarra Dragons 6

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2nd Half

Needless to say the Dragons needed to score first in the second half; it didn’t happen as the Cowboys scored early after just four minutes and it was so easy. A risky back-handed flick pass from Zac Lomax coming off his line had the predictable result based on the Dragons’ night so far, and Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi was on hand to scoop up the loose ball and run a few metres to the line to score. No conversion kept the margin to 18 points, which looked pretty safe.

The Dragons has some opportunities in good position after that Cowboys try, but wasted the chances with poor last tackles options and errors. It didn’t look like the Dragons would score any points, let alone the 19 they needed for victory. North Queensland have kept seven clean sheets in the second half this season in 13 games, and an eighth looked very likely.

Reuben was one spark for the Dragons; the prolific Queensland and NSW Cup try scorer made a good break in the 60th minute, but fizzled out with his grubber attempt. As did another set not long after when Francis Molo dropped the ball close to the line.

St George Illawarra continued to get the ball and territory in the second half, and they continued to throw away the opportunities with errors and no zip in attack, although it has to be said under terrific pressure from the Cowboys’ defence who know how to shut out a side in the second half.

With seemingly nothing else to do, Chad Townsend slotted a field goal with six minutes to go to break up what has to be said was a pretty dull second half of rugby league: the one point potentially having more impact to punters than the Dragons’ attack to the Cowboys.

But against all stats, and the attack served up by the Dragons in the second half, they broke through for a rare second half try against the Cowboys. It was Jaydn Su’A who crossed the line for the Dragons, busting through some tiring Cowboys defence close to the line. The successful conversion gave the Dragons a 6-5 second half lead, and a 13-point deficit.

Despite just two minutes remaining in the game after that Dragons try, the Cowboys weren’t done. They scored with a few seconds to go through Connelly Lemuelu, who ran through a tired-looking Ben Hunt tackle from 20 metres out to finish the game in style. It was hard on the Dragons skipper who tried all night to lift his team.

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It was a solid performance from North Queensland, with some Origin absentees, and a few backing up. Taumalolo is getting closer to his best every week, and there appears to be no weak link in the Cowboys squad who are deservedly entrenched in the top four. Luki doing an ACL is the one sour note, but given the form of the fringe players, North Queensland look like they will be fine for now.

For the Dragons, given the recent purge of NRL coaches, Anthony Griffin won’t want his side to turn in too many of those performances in a row. They could look to that disallowed second try at the time as a negative turning point of their own making in the first half, although you could argue they had enough ball in the second to make a game of it, but fell way short.

FULL-TIME: North Queensland 31 St George Illawarra Dragons 12

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTS

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3 pts – Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys), 2 pts – Reece Robson (Cowboys), 1 pt – Scott Drinkwater (Cowboys)

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