North Queensland are now in third position behind Penrith and Melbourne after overcoming an injury hit Newcastle side in hot and humid conditions at QCB Stadium.
Halfback Chad Townsend produced four try assists from kicks, with teenage second-rower Jeremiah Nanai among the beneficiaries in a stunning performance that showed why he is so highly regarded by Cowboys coach Todd Payten.
The Knights lost Tyson Frizell before the game and Jack Johns and Edrick Lee in the second half but turned in a much improved performance after heavy defeats by the Eels and Storm, with Kalyn Ponga leading the way.
Trailing 16-12 at halftime, the Cowboys did not concede a point after the interval in a ruthless performance.
- Tom Dearden stunned the Knights in just the second minute when he slid over in the corner and was cleared of a double-movement after Chad Townsend had to shaped to kick before passing to his halves partner.
- After failing to score a try in their two previous matches against the Eels and Storm, the Knights finally had something to cheer about when Kalyn Ponga combined with five-eighth Tex Hoy to put Jamaican winger Dom Young over in the 10th minute.
- In comparison to the Knights, Kyle Feldt has had no problems scoring tries, with the Cowboys winger finishing with a hat-trick against the Eels last weekend and crossing in the 24th minute after an overhead pass from fullback Scott Drinkwater.
- However, the Knights hit back five minutes later when Ponga grubbered into the right goal post pad and the ball bounced perfectly for chasing prop Jacob Saifiti to score.
- Hoy then stepped his way through the defence of Cowboys forwards Jeremiah Nanai and Griffin Neame before putting hooker Chris Randall over in the 38th minute to grab the lead for Newcastle at halftime.
- Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi outleapt Knights centre Enari Tuala to field a Chad Townsend kick and raced over to score five minutes after the halftime break.
- Centre Valentine Holmes then scored in the next set after passing outside to Taulagi and backing up to receive the ball inside and stroll over as the Cowboys pushed out to a 24-16 lead.
- Jacob Saifiti and Bradman Best helped keep the Knights in the game when they held up Nanai over the line as the visitors defended with 11 men while Jack Johns and Edrick Lee were receiving treatment before coming from the field.
- Johns suffered a suspected broken arm while Lee needed a HIA after copping an accidental elbow from Feldt and the Knights were unable to cope with the depletion of their playing stocks.
- Nanai scored a stunning try in the 60th minute after Feldt tapped back a Townsend kick and the teenage second-rower stepped Ponga and Hoy to score.
- The scoreline could have been bigger as Jason Taumalolo had two tries disallowed midway through the second half but it wasn't until the 76th minute that the Cowboys scored again after Heilum Luki latched onto a Townsend kick.
Play of the game
Teen forward Jeremiah Nanai showed footwork most outside backs could only dream of as he snuffed out any hope of a Knights comeback by stepping Kalyn Ponga and Tex Hoy after Kyle Feldt tapped back a Chad Townsend kick in the 60th minute.
What they said
“I’m happy with the way we responded at halftime. We came out and kept them scoreless in the second half. My message was just to do what we do well. I talked to Robbo [Reece Robson] about taking his opportunities when we got a bit of ruck speed and he pierced through the line a couple of times and we had some movement around him. I think he is the best defensive hooker in the comp, he is really tight, his movement is good, he is off the line quick, he leads our line speed and he gets through a ton of work, and he doesn’t miss many. On the other side of the ball his service is pretty good, and he is starting to take some of those opportunities when we get some ruck speed through the middle,”: Cowboys coach Todd Payten.
“There was a ton of effort going into parts of our game, but we have got to get smarter. There is no doubt some experience coming back next week will help. We can’t afford ill-discipline. We had three or four play one errors and four last play tries. Regardless of whether you have played 10 games or 50 games at this club you keep your feet moving on the last play. We train the hell out of it every week. There are so many areas I am really proud of and some individuals. But we hold ourselves to high standards and need to be smarter. We are reasonably experienced in the middle, we are really inexperienced on our edges. We have got some young boys hanging on for dear life and that is probably where they found some joy,": Knights coach Adam O'Brien.
The Cowboys take on Wests Tigers in the final match of Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night, while the Knights face the Bulldogs in the opening game on Friday night.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten will be hoping the facial injury suffered by fullback Scott Drinkwater during a head collision with team-mate Peta Hiku just before halftime is not serious.
Drinkwater passed a HIA and returned to the field but he had swelling under his right eye, while prop Coen Hess also played on after suffering a first half shoulder injury.
The Knights expect to have Tyson Frizell back for the clash with the Bulldogs after he was a late withdrawal due to illness. However, his replacement Jack Johns suffered a suspected broken arm.
Halves Adam Clune (knee) and Jack Clifford (personal reasons) are among up to eight players set to return in the next two weeks.
Winger Edrick Lee will need to pass the NRL's HIA protocols to play against the Bulldogs after being forced from the field with a head knock in the second half.
Story first published on NRL.com