Friday’s first game pitted the New Zealand Warriors against the North Queensland Cowboys. The Warriors continue to struggle, despite their triumphant return to rugby in round three, and suffered a defeat last time out which keeps them towards the bottom of the ladder. The Cowboys have fared little better with two wins from their four outings so far, a win and a loss since the restart.
New Zealand welcomed back Peta Hiku and Lachlan Burr while the Cowboys have Coen Hess and Reuban Cotter in their side as well as giving a debut to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow on the wing.
A win for North Queensland could lift them as high as fourth, while the Warriors could make it to tenth spot if they could secure the points.
The Warriors drew first blood as Patrick Herbert grounded a Tony Nikorima kick to the corner after nine minutes. Nikorima converted from the touchline for a 6-0 lead.
The Cowboys response came on fifteen when Val Holmes took a looping pass to dive over in the corner. Kyle Feldt made no mistake with the kick to level the scores.
A disastrous mistake by Peta Hiku, attempting to shield the ball dead in goal, allowed Feldt to pounce on the bouncing ball and get one hand on it to ground for the Cowboys second of the evening. Feldt converted off the far post for a 12-6 lead.
New Zealand weren’t giving up though. Nikorima dropped the shoulder and burst for the line before passing to Eliesa Katoa who dragged three tacklers over the line with him to score the four-pointer. Nikorima added the conversion and the two sides were back level after twenty-six minutes.
The Cowboys had a try ruled out for an obstruction on thirty-one. And on thirty-five it was the Warriors who were back in front as Hiku threw the dummy and stepped inside to score to make up for his earlier mistake. Nikorima pushed his kick wide of the sticks.
On the stroke of half time Nikorima kicked a forty-metre drop goal to give his side a five-point lead going into the interval at 17-12.
One minute after the restart and the Cowboys were right back in it. Justin O’Neill was on hand to take the pass and score an acrobatic one handed try by the left corner flag before being pushed into touch. Feldt couldn’t add the conversion, his side now just one point adrift.
On forty-five a delightful Nikorima flick pass found the safe hands of Adam Pompey to score another touchline try. Nikorima pulled his kick left of the uprights, a five-point lead restored.
North Queensland were back in front on fifty after Feldt converted a Francis Molo try after he came off the bench to score by the uprights. This was an end to end encounter with some electric attack from both sides masking some awful defence.
On fifty-seven Hiku was on the end of a Wayde Egan grubber to get a hand on the bouncing ball for his second of the night and to retake the lead for the Warriors. Nikorima added the conversion for 27-22, it was a breathless game and still anyone’s.
Hiku completed his hat-trick on sixty-five when a high kick wasn’t fielded by Feldt and ended up in the hands of the Warriors winger who accepted the invitation to score again. Nikorima was again unable to add the conversion, the Warriors ahead by 31-22 with a bit of daylight.
Ten minutes were left on the clock when the Cowboys again failed to deal with a high ball and the ricochet found the hands of Kyle Lawton to take two big steps and dive over. Nikorima missed an easy conversion but it was a three try lead at 35-22.
On seventy-three the Cowboys redressed the balance with a long ball ending up in the hands of Feldt for him to het his second of the night. He hit the upright with his conversion attempt, the Cowboys still behind by nine.
Ten seconds from time Katoa was dragged back by Marsters which resulted in the Cowboys winger being sin-binned. It wasn’t enough for a penalty try but did result in a penalty which Nikorima kicked for a final score of 37-26.
This was a crucial win for a determined New Zealand Warriors who upset the form book to take the two points. Neither side defended like champions but that just added to the entertainment as we were treated to eleven tries, including a Feldt brace and a Hiku hat-trick.
New Zealand Warriors: Tuivasa-Sheck, Herbert (T), Beale, Pompey (T), Nikorima (4G, DG), Green, Taunoa-Brown, Egan, Burr, Katoa (T), Harris, Blair, Hiku (3T). Subs: Lawton (T), Vuniyayawa, Faamausili, Murchie.
North Queensland Cowboys: Holmes (T), Feldt (2T, 3G), O’Neill (T), Marsters (SB on 79), Tabuai-Fidow, Drinkwater, Clifford, Robson, McLean, Hess, McGuire, Taumalolo. Subs: Molo (T), Cotter, Gilbert, Cooper.
Referee: Adam Gee.
Ground: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford.