Scoring 2 tries in the final 4 minutes of tonights Monday Night Football match has secured Newcastle a 30-18 win over the Cowboys in Townsville, sending the North Queensland side slumping to their 7th successive defeat for the first time since 1999, bringing back bad memories of their dark old days, where the Northerners were rarely if ever competitive.
With brittle on line defence, the Cowboys always looked suspect when under the pump and while they worked the ball well at times in attack – their poor lapse on the 80th minute mark typified their night and possibly their season. The Knights’ Kurt Gidley looking superhuman as he wouldn’t submit in a 4 man tackle and somehow managed to drive his opponents over the line and lunge out to score, the effort from the Cowboys in this tackle certainly had them in the Grand Final for the worst ever on line defence.
The Knights were all set to run away with the NRL match after a converted try to Kurt Gidley made it 18-4 early in the 2nd term, before Queensland Origin no.7 Johnathan Thurston mustered an impressive attacking fightback for his team.
A second man ball from Thurston, along with some quick hands from Watts and Ben Harris put Ben Farrar over for his second try of the night in the 50th minute, with Thurston’s sideline conversion closing the gap to 18-10.
Newcastle continued to invite North Queensland back into the contest with errors, and a Kurt Gidley knock-on inside his own ten-metre area presented the Cowboys with another golden opportunity they gleefully accepted.
A Thurston short ball hit a charging Matt Bartlett on the chest from close range, and the youngster had too much strength for Cory Paterson, planting the ball down to make it 18-14.
Thurston slotted the extras to cut the deficit to just two points with 16 minutes remaining.
The Cowboys looked set to concede points almost immediately following a Carl Webb mistake, but a goal line intercept from Ashley Graham saved the visitors bacon.
The home side squared the game at 18-all when the Knights were penalised for stripping as the Cowboys attacked their line, setting up a pulsating final 10 minutes.
Kurt Gidley had a chance to put the Knights back in front when Newcastle were awarded a penalty almost directly in front 35 metres out, but the ball skewed to the right off his boot to keep the game locked.
From the ensuing 20-metre dropout, it was ironically a shocking field goal attempt from Jarrod Mullen that set up the match-winning play.
Mullen’s field-goal attempt was well wide of the posts, but screwed backwards upon landing in the in-goal, and was grounded in the in-goal by Anthony Watts, forcing a dropout.
From the ensuing set, the Knight’s five-eighth then sliced between Sione Faumuina and former teammate Daniel Abraham to put the Knights in front, before Kurt Gidley iced the game with a strong effort in the final minute.
The defensive frailties that have been present for much of the Cowboys season were evident in their first defensive set as Wes Naiquama busted a week Chris Sheppard tackle to bust the line, and the Knights surged upfield, but the Cowboys diffused the raid, and were then piggy-backed out of trouble.
Back-to-back penalties gave the North Queenslanders a look at the Newcastle line, and the Cowboys produced some of the attacking brilliance for which they are renowned.
A clever cutout pass followed by a second-man ball for Thurston found some space on the left, the mercurial half then found fullback Anthony Watts, and he in turn linked with Ben Farrar, who forced his way over in the corner.
Thurston was unable to add the extras, leaving the Cowboys 4-nil in front after five minutes.
The Knights however, continued to look dangerous, and evened the ledger in the 15th minute, courtesy of some Danny Buderus magic.
The Blues skipper stormed into a gap on the Cowboys 30 and looked set to score himself, but was stopped short by a last ditch effort from Watts. On his way to the ground, he delivered a miracle flick pass out the back to a Chris Houston in support, who crossed for the try.
Kurt Gidley added the extras from adjacent to the posts, giving the Knights a 6-4 lead.
Newcastle continued to look far more menacing in attack than their North Queensland counterparts, but kept inviting the Cowboys back into their own area with a number of handling errors.
A dubious knock-on call against Cowboys prop Shane Tronc gave the Knights a chance to extend their lead just prior to half time, and the looked to have done so when Buderus looked to have forced his way over from close range, but referee Shayne Hayne strangely decided against going to the video referee for adjudication, instead awarding the Knights a penalty.
I didn’t make any real difference, as the Cowboys folded meekly in the repeat set, when Matt Hilder brushed off Tronc to go over next to the posts, with Gidley’s conversion giving the visitors a 12-4 halftime advantage.
Newcastle came out explosive in the 2nd term, boosting their lead after only a couple of minutes with Kurt Gidley scoring under the posts, before the Cowboys piled on 14 unanswered points to set up a grandstand finish to the NRL clash in Townsville.
The loss by the Cowboys virtually consigns them to also rans in the 2008 NRL Premiership. At the middle half of the season, the likes of South Sydney, North Queensland, NZ Warriors and the Bulldogs look set to miss the Top 8 as the middle section of teams including: Wests Tigers, Dragons, Panthers, Sharks and Eels look set to fight out the lower Top 8 spots.