Trailing 26-12 just seven minutes from fulltime, the Cowboys mounted a remarkable comeback as Reece Robson, Murray Taulagi and Valentine Holmes crossed in succession to shock the Sea Eagles.
The Cowboys did so after losing Queensland forward Reuben Cotter in the warm-up with a hamstring injury that has him in doubt for next weekend's Origin in Perth and they never really looked like winning until the dying stages.
Until the late onslaught, it appeared that Manly hooker Lachlan Croker had spearheaded the home team to an impressive win after laying on a try and scoring two in the second half but the Sea Eagles fell agonisingly short.
- The Cowboys had to adjust quickly after the loss of Cotter just before kick-off but they soon found themselves trailing on the scoreboard when winger Christian Tuipulotu scored in the eighth minute after back-to-back Manly kicks.
- The try came after forward Toafofoa Sipley collected a kick from Daly Cherry-Evans and passed to Kieran Foran, who spotted Tuipuloto unmarked on the right flank and sent the ball to him with a cross-field kick.
- Another kick almost led to a second Manly try after strike forward Haumole Olakau’atu won a mid-air challenge with Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater but the Bunker ruled he had knocked on before centre Tolutua Koula touched down.
- It didn't take long for the Sea Eagles to score their second try, with centre Morgan Harper splitting the defence with a dummy half run on his own 10-metre line and sending Reuben Garrick racing 50 metres to score in the 24th minute.
- Despite the disappointing start, the Cowboys would have been happy to go to halftime trailing just 10-6 after Chad Townsend kicked, regathered the bouncing ball and kicked again for an unmarked Valentine Holmes to score in the 35th minute.
- A try to Jeremiah Nanai from a kick just four minutes after the break put the Cowboys ahead for the first time in game.
- That's when Lachlan Croker stepped up to seemingly take control of the game, laying on a second try for Tuipulotu with a long kick in the 48th minute.
- Croker then produced a 40/20 kick and scored a try of his own after pouncing on an in-goal grubber from Daly Cherry-Evans in the 61st minute.
- The Sea Eagles hooker then extended the home team's lead to 26-12 when he crossed for his second try three minutes later.
- Yet the game was far from over, as the Sea Eagles quickly realised when hooker Reece Robson scored in the 72nd minute and winger Connelly Lemuelu crossed just a minute later.
- Valentine Holmes then put North Queensland ahead when he picked up a loose pass from Cherry-Evans to Koula and sprinted 90 metres to score in the 76th minute and snatch a stunning 28-26 win.
Play of the game
The Cowboys had never really looked like winning until Connelly Lemuelu scored a spectacular try in the 73rd minute to put the visitors within striking range. Jason Taumalolo started the movement and Tom Dearden put Valentine Holmes hurtling through a hole but Lemuelu still had some work to do.
What they said
"It’s a fair argument that for 72 minutes we were probably the better side, we had the better run of the game. The players are really disappointed about it. We probably should have closed that game out. We know exactly what our identity is. In saying that, at the end of the day, we should not have lost that game tonight. That’s the harsh reality. That’s the real lesson here tonight. But we know that there’s plenty in this footy side,": Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler.
"We played tough and hung in there, and we got tested at different stages. We lost Reubs [Cotter] in the warm-up, both backrowers from last week weren't playing, we lost Hammer [Tabuai-Fidow] halfway through but we just kept turning up for each other. Across the team, everyone just kept moving and we played some good footy. I thought it was a pretty high quality match with some decent footy being played between two pretty good teams have a crack at it": Cowboys coach Todd Payten.
The Sea Eagles host the Storm in the next instalment of the Battle of Brookvale at 4 Pines Park on the Thursday after Origin II, while the Cowboys continue their epic rivalry with the Broncos in a Queensland derby clash on Saturday, July 2.
Manly coach Des Hasler will be monitoring the fitness of Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans just four days after playing in Perth and lock Jake Trbojevic may also be involved.
The Sea Eagles also have a host of players involved in international fixtures during the stand-alone representative round, including Samoa's Martin Taupau, Josh Schuster, Toff Sipley and Josh Aloiai, Kiwi playmaker Kieran Foran and Tonga's Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Christian Tuipulotu.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten may have the services of new recruit Luciano Leilua available for the Broncos clash after the Samoa forward was granted an early release by Wests Tigers.
Valentine Holmes and Jeremiah Nanai are expected to retain their places in the Queensland team and they could be joined by either Murray Taulagi or Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, while Reuben Cotter is in doubt after injuring his hamstring in the warm-up.
Tabuai-Fidow failed a HIA and did not finish the match, while Tualagi appeared to have a shoulder injury but he assured Payten he would be fit for Origin.
Jason Taumalo (Tonga), Peta Hiku and Griffin Neame (both New Zealand) will be on international duty next weekend.
Story first published on NRL.com