A loss as good as a win for homesick Cowboys
Want to know how to silence Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen, Matt Scott, James Tamou et al? Fly them south of the Tweed.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: the North Queensland Cowboys won their last match in Melbourne and three of their last five in the Australian Capital Territory.
Get them in New South Wales though and it’s a different story. Media outlets ran an interesting statistic before the Cowboys’ round 21 match against the ladder-leading Bulldogs: 31 matches, five wins.
There’s been a total of one win in NSW this season, 32-12 against Newcastle back in round 10. Apparently the Cowboys are as keen on NSW as the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
That’s not to say they were without hope. For all the hype surrounding the Bulldogs, the Cowboys man-for-man can match them. Both forward packs are scattered with rep players, while the match-up between Ben Barba and Bowen was enough to wonder just what TV executives were thinking when they picked this game for 5.30 on a Saturday.
It didn’t take long for Barba to take the opening honours. Josh Reynolds made the initial break, Bowen went in low to stop him, only for the offload to find Barba steaming through somewhere just below Mach-1 for the opening try.
Over to you Matty: Bowen then struck back with a wonderful little grubber kick that sat up just right for Kane Linnett to score. A Thurston conversion later and it was game on at 6-6, only for déjà vu to strike: Reynolds break, Bowen tackle, Barba support, Bulldog try, six-point lead.
Soon after a Reynolds kick found Antonio Winterstein, Krisnan Inu snatched it, looked like he dropped it, but had the video referee give him the benefit of the doubt. It was 18-6 Bulldogs at half-time, and the match of the round looked more like Mike Tyson versus Gerrard Zohs.
After the break this year’s Cowboys proved they were no pushovers. First up Winterstein took advantage of a Barba error to pounce on an innocuous grubber, before Bowen made one of the tackles of the season. Josh Morris made a break, pinned the ears back and made for the corner. Bowen pinned his ears back, made the chase, and despite conceding 10cm and 10kg, managed to bring Morris down just before the line. Soon after Thurston crossed for his first try of the season, converted, and at 18-18 this game was on.
What followed was the most exciting arm-wrestle imaginable. Both teams threw wave after wave of attack at each other; both fell just short until the Bulldogs got a penalty from a strip for a 20-18 lead. Sam Perrett scored from a bomb soon after, Barba rubbed salt into the wound with a 79th minute try and the Bulldogs won 32-16.
So a loss, but the Cowboys showed enough that should they make the finals, they’re more than capable of causing an upset, even if the game is in NSW.
Just ask the 2004 Bulldogs about that.