MELBOURNE have ended North Queensland’s early season revival with a dour 12-10 win which saw in-form flyer Billy Slater forced from the field midway through the first half.
Slater lasted just 22 minutes at Dairy Farmers Stadium after being accidentally hit in the eye by North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston.
He spent the rest of the match icing a cut under his right eye.
Slater’s condition will likely be closely monitored by Test selectors but, if fit, he is expected to get the nod ahead of Manly No.1 Brett Stewart when the Kangaroos team is announced tomorrow night for next month’s Centenary Test against New Zealand at the SCG.
With defence dominating, both sides struggled to find any real rhythm in attack and both were guilty of poor handling at certain stages throughout the game.
Israel Folau ended any hopes of the Cowboys extending their winning streak to four when he crashed over, taking two defenders with him for an eight-point lead midway through the second half.
Melbourne had a 6-0 lead at the break, making the most of the limited first half opportunities with makeshift fullback Greg Inglis crossing in the fifth minute.
They were unlucky not to go further ahead when an Inglis try was disallowed by video ref Bill Harrigan for obstruction.
To the joy of the 24,053-strong crowd, the Cowboys had begun to show some signs of attacking life after the break with reserve hooker Anthony Watts making inroads into the Melbourne defence before Thurston rubber-stamped his Australian selection by putting Mark Henry over in the corner.
Thurston also showed his class by playing a hand in setting up North Queensland’s first try of the match, combining with Bowen out wide to put John Williams over in the corner.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was quick to allay fears Slater’s injury was serious.
“He wanted to go back on at the end but he could only see out of one eye and it is really puffed up,” Bellamy said.
“But there is nothing major so hopefully he will be right to play in the next couple of weeks.”
Bellamy was proud of his side’s ability to handle the short turnaround after Monday’s victory over Canberra.
“I was just so happy with their effort. We prepared the best we could with the short turnaround.
“With an 11-2 penalty count against us it was pretty tough going so I was really happy with the way the guys hung in there and I thought they showed a lot of guts out there tonight.”
Cowboys mentor Graham Murray was able to find some positives out his side’s first loss in four weeks.
“Defence has been a really good part of our last four weeks but tonight it was really good,” he said.
“We just need to sharpen our attack a bit more but it was a good effort by us.
“I thought we had a chance but we probably just didn’t have enough completions at their end of the field to mount enough pressure.”