North Queensland have claimed their second NRL Nines title with a 23-14 win over St George Illawarra in Perth.
In front of a healthy crowd of 14,739 on Saturday night, the Cowboys added a matching piece of silverware to their 2014 Nines title with victory in the fast-paced final at HBF Stadium.
It finished off a wonderful campaign for the Cowboys, who went undefeated across the two-day tournament, which unearthed a number of stars.
Returning Dragons veteran Jason Nightingale polished off his impressive Nines campaign with a try midway through the first half, finishing off a flick pass from centre Euan Aitken.
Less than a minute later, they backed it up through Mikaele Ravalawa to take an 8-6 lead before the Cowboys hit back through former Dragon Reece Robson, who split the defence to score in the bonus zone and regain the lead before halftime.
Cowboys half Jake Clifford sealed the win with a wide try in the second half, backing up his defensive effort to save an almost-certain try before halftime.
A late try from fast-moving prop Josh Kerr kept the Dragons in the game, but it wasn’t enough.
It was the first NRL Nines final for the Dragons, who earlier knocked Penrith out of the finals controversially when a try was given wrongly to rookie Cody Ramsey in the dying seconds of their quarter-final.
Ramsey was awarded his third try of the match in the 17-14 win, but replays showed the ball was planted in touch.
NRL video referee technology is not used in the Nines format.
“It sucks. It’s one of those 50-50 calls and, hopefully, we get a couple of 50-50s during the season to pay us back for that,” said Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.
“I thought we didn’t play our best game and we put ourselves in that position ultimately.
“I thought we could have built in and given it a red-hot crack but that’s not the way it goes, and good luck to the Dragons.”
While the loss was disappointing for the Panthers, Ramsey was thrilled to score a hat-trick on his 20th birthday.
“I thought I got it in, but that’s the ref’s call and I can’t do anything about it. It’s not up to me,” he said after the game.