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'Putrid' Dragons no match for Cowboys as top four surge continues

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10th June, 2022
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North Queensland’s march towards the top four has continued with a comfortable 31-12 victory over St George Illawarra.

The Dragons were dreadful in attack, and the failings were familiar: Zac Lomax, in particular, had a series of errors – one of which gifted Murray Taulagi a try – and overall, the team completed at just 69 per cent.

“It was putrid,’ said Michael Ennis on Fox League. “Block after block after block – they never really challenged the Cowboys’ defensive line. You need a much better plan when you’re going up against one of the best defensive sides in the competition.”

Ben Hunt was the only Dragon to feature in Origin and backed up tonight, but his supporting cast often failed him. Aside from Moses Suli and debutant Jonathan Reuben on the left edge, few threatened with the ball.

“It was messy,” coach Anthony Griffin admitted after the match. “We never settled into the game. They’re in great form and they put a lot of points on us early.

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“We wrestled it back a little in the second half and gave ourselves a chance but got messy with the ball again.

“I thought it was temperament. We never worked hard enough or direct enough to get a reward. There were errors at the back end of our sets.

“We did a good job on ourselves without them helping us.”

North Queensland were shorn of Origin stars Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai – and lost gun back-rower Heilum Luki to an ACL injury – but had more than enough firepower to get by a Dragons side that is levels below the Cowboys.

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Scott Drinkwater scored one and made anothrr from the back, Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend controlled the middle as they have all year, and Jason Taumalolo was at his imperious best, pushing 200 metres with the ball, nearly 100 of which were post-contact.

“We take a win any way they come,” said coach Todd Payten.

“We showed great composure and I just loved the way we competed.

“There were a couple of line breaks there against the run of play where, when we made the tackle, there were four, five or six people and by the next play we had everyone behind the ball.

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“For me, that was the difference. We outcompeted them. For the most part, we looked comfortable and we knew what was coming.

“We held another team to 12 or less, it’s not a bad stat to have and it shows how hard we’re working for each other.

“It’s the difference between wins and losses. It shows the care we have for the jersey and for the team. We see that, the fans see that, they love it and so do I.”

The Dragons had the first decent position of the game, but it was the Cowboys that raced out of the blocks.

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They forced three repeat sets in good ball before three of their big hitters combined for the opening try: Dearden slipped Coen Hess through on a beautifully-angled line, before the forward found Drinkwater to touch down.

  • TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 10: Cody Ramsey of the Dragons contests the ball with Murray Taulagi of the Cowboys during the round 14 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on June 10, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The fullback then turned provider, winding a bounce-perfect kick through for Peta Hiku. There was more than a whiff off offside, but the bunker saw no issue and allowed it to stand.

The scoreline was outpacing the clock and might have accelerated further: Taumalolo created a break and got the ball to Dearden, only for the halfback to be dragged down.

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St George Illawarra needed to spark up. Blake Lawrie went about it the wrong way, laying one late on Dearden and getting himself put on report.

Reuben, on debut on the wing for the Dragons at age 29, took an intercept and raced away, but was stopped by a superb Cowboys scramble before Cody Ramsey got over the line, but was called back for an obstruction.

It was to become a theme. Where St George might have scored twice, the Cowboys went straight down main street and got themselves another. Again, Taumalolo was the architect, slipping Griffin Neame through the middle with soft hands, from whence he put Reece Robson under the sticks.

The Dragons eventually found their rewards. Suli, always the most likely looking, was the man to get it. It had a spot of luck – he lost the ball and regathered before touching down – but it was hard to say that the centre, at the very least, didn’t deserve something for his first half.

The second half performance was even less impressive. Murray Taulagi was gifted a try by a Zac Lomax error, and for the next twenty minutes, it seemed as if the Cowboys seemed content to treat the game as a defensive exercise.

They were not overly challenged by the Dragons’ attack, though again, Reuben made a superb break, until eventually the Cowboys relented to concede a late Jayden Su’A score.

There was time for Connolly Lemuelu to add gloss to the scoreline – along with a previous field goal from Townsend – and to confirm another stroll of a victory up in Townsville.

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