On paper there was only one winner of the Saturday Round Seven clash between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights as the team Novocastrians looked to build on their tremendous 2020 season by going top of the ladder.
The Cowboys hadn’t registered a win since defeating the Gold Coast Titans in round three and were desperate for a win to give their campaign a boost, the Knights came into the game on the back of a big win against the Brisbane Broncos last time out.
Few, of the small number of supporters allowed into the Stadium, would have been expecting what their side was about to serve up.
The Cowboys got off to a terrific start when fast hands down the line in a right to left movement saw Justin O’Neill with the ball in hand and an acre of space to score in the corner. Kyle Feldt slotted his conversion between the uprights for a 6-0 lead after ten minutes.
The lead was extended by two points with a fifteenth minute Feldt penalty goal from ten metres out, under the sticks.
On nineteen the Cowboys grabbed their second try when Reece Robson broke the defensive line and made twenty metres before an outside pass to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to coast over and score under the sticks. Feldt kicked the goal for a 14-0 lead, the Knights stunned.
In a try out of nowhere Jake Clifford brushed aside a poor Knights defensive effort to back his way over the line and drop to the line to score. Feldt got his fourth goal of the afternoon to bring up the twenty.
With just over a minute left on the first half clock Feldt took a pinpoint Clifford kick to the corner, as Edrick Lee failed to deal with the bomb, and he had to take just one step to score. The Cowboys winger added the conversion for a 26-0 half time lead.
The 2,000 Cowboys supporters in the stadium were delighted with a sensational first half performance.
Ninety seconds after the restart, and with Adam O’Briens words still ringing in their ears, the Knights broke from their own half with Tex Hoy sprinting through a gap to take the pass and score under the posts. Kalyn Ponga added the conversion for 6-26.
Within three minutes the Cowboys responded when Tom Opacic went for the line and offloaded a delightful inside flicked pass to Coen Hess to dive over the line. Feldt added the conversion to re-establish the twenty-six-point lead.
There was a stroke of luck in the Knights second try with Hymel Hunt managing to keep his feet in the air as he slid over by the right corner flag but the luck didn’t rub off on Ponga who was unable to add the touchline conversion.
On fifty-nine the Cowboys nerves were knocking as Kurt Mann pushed his way to the line and dropped over for the third North Queensland try. Ponga added the goal for 16-32, now it wasn’t looking quite so straightforward for the Cowboys.
With five minutes left on the clock Gehamat Shibasaki took an offload from Lachlan Fitzgibbon to score from three metres out but with Ponga missing the conversion attempt the Knights still needed two converted tries to snatch an unlikely victory.
Scott Drinkwater was sin-binned inside the last minute for tackling a player without the ball ten out from his own line but it came too late to assist the Knights as the Cowboys held on to take the win.
The game was won thanks to as sensational first half from the Cowboys but all credit to the Knights who recovered to take the game back to their opponents in the second forty. Attacks were in charge against defences which looked tired and ineffectual at times as they leaked nine tries in the game.
North Queensland Cowboys: Tabuai-Fidow (T), Feldt (T, 6G), O’Neill (T), Marsters, Opacic, Drinkwater (SB on 79), Clifford (T), McGuire, Robson, McLean, Hess (T), Wright, Taumalolo. Subs: Molo, Hampton, Hola, Cooper.
Newcastle Knights: Ponga (2G), Lee, Tuala, Shibasaki (T), Hunt (T), Mann (T), Pearce, Klemmer, McCullogh, Saifiti, Fitzgibbon, Mata’utia, Glasby. Subs: Hoy (T), Jacob, Ese’ese, Guerra.
Referee: Matt Cecchin.
Ground: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville.