North Queensland killed off Canberra’s chances of a top four NRL finish with a 22-10 win in Townsville tonight.
With injuries decimating their line up, Canberra were always going to be up against it facing a Cowboys side inspired by the chance to offload the wooden spoon with a victory in their last home game of a forgettable 2008 campaign.
Canberra were further weakened when lock-cum-halfback Alan Tongue was forced to take over the kicking game with star pivot Terry Campese nursing a hamstring injury.
But handling errors and a lack of defensive muscle were the visitors’ main problem.
Incoming North Queensland coach Neil Henry would have been impressed with what he has to work with next year but his immediate concern will be re-energising the green machine’s playoff hopes, the loss tonight ending their chance of earning a home final.
The Raiders can still miss the eight but would have to lose to the lowly Bulldogs in Canberra next week in the last round of the home and away season.
Aaron Payne was the Cowboys’ best, the Townsville junior turning in one of his best performances of the year, having a hand in two first half tries while constantly probing Canberra’s ruck defence.
The Cowboys stunned the high flying Raiders early with three first half tries to Johnathan Thurston (9th minute), Travis Burns (27th) and Ben Harris (32nd) for a 16-0 halftime lead.
North Queensland continued the assault shortly after the half when Carl Webb crashed over carrying four defenders, before Canberra finally crossed in the 60th minute when Adrian Purtell latched onto a Glen Butriss bomb to reduce the deficit to 16.
The Cowboys enjoyed the majority of the possession and field position in the second half but Canberra continued to reduce the margin when winger Brett Kelly crossed in the 71st minute.
Cowboys coach Ian Millward credited his side’s defence as the catalyst behind the 22-10 victory.
“Defensively we were very good, we were strong, contact was great, we got forward pretty well,” Millward said.
“The try they got from the kick probably highlights the only way they were going to score tonight.
“Probably the score line was flattering to them.
“We created a lot of opportunities in the second half but it was probably the final pass that went astray.”
Henry was left to lament his side’s inability to control the ball.
“It was pretty messy. I’m disappointed with our lack of control of the ball but full credit to the Cowboys,” he said.
“They played a bit of footy. They were offloading the ball and the bounce went with them.
“We had to defend a lot. I think they had 60 per cent of the possession for most of the game and we didn’t utilise ours too well.
Henry said Campese entered the game with a slight hamstring strain but denied it would prevent the five-eighth from taking on the Bulldogs next week.
“He had a tight hamstring from last week’s game,” Henry said.
“We have got an eight-day turnaround so we will work overtime on a couple of players to get them up for our last game.”
NORTH QUEENSLAND 22 (T Burns B Harris J Thurston C Webb tries J Williams 3 goals) bt CANBERRA 10 (B Kelly A Purtell tries J Monaghan goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: M Cecchin. Crowd: 14,981.