Cowboys 20 def Bulldogs 18
The North Queensland Cowboys put on a stellar first 20 minutes in their home final to setup what was to be a close win for the locals.
Despite the Bulldogs shooting out of the blocks with commitment and precision, the Cowboys attacking machine carved up the Dogs in broken play to jump out to a quick 12-0 lead. The usual suspects in Matt Bowen and Jonathan Thurston were the orchestrators, as Aaron Payne and Paul Bowman joined in to get the Cowboys rolling.
While the Cowboys had the field position and the momentum, the Bulldogs still had several chances against the run of play – on 2 occasions looking certain to score, only to fall apart on the final pass. Cowboys custodian Matt Bowen proving a nightmare for the Dogs as they got nervous everytime they approached him 2 on 1.
The footspeed of the Cowboys again proved the difference this week, the Dogs just unable to contain or match the ruck speed of fleet footed locals. The Bulldogs tried hard to make the game an armwrestle and whenever things slowed to a grind – the Bulldogs looked more comfortable.
To their credit, the Bulldog hung in all game – staying close enough to nearly steal a late victory through a cross field kick to El Masri, the aging winger showing good speed to nearly score in the corner.
The Cowboys kicking game was far superior to that of the Dogs, Thurston and Bowen both sharing the duties and turning the Bulldogs around for most of the night. The dummy half duties of Aaron Payne and David Faiumu totally eclipsing that of the Bulldogs – the Cowboys getting good direction and thrust through their little generals. Veteran Paul Bowman pulled out one of his top shelf games tonight, the Cowboy centre usually known for his solid defence was slick and enterprising in his attack tonight – getting under the Bulldogs radar as they continued to focus more on the Bowens and Thurstons. The North Queensland forward pack also deserves a wrap, still with plenty of big names on the injury list – they fought hard and got the better of the big name Bulldogs forwards.
The icing on the cake for the Cowboys was the quality of their bench, the injection of Jason Smith gave North Queensland a composed and finals like quality. The elder statesment of the NRL, Smith setup Thurston with a nice flick pass to seal the victory.
The look likely to survive another week, with the Bunnies going down and Melbourne certain to send Brisbane packing tomorrow. While Andrew Ryan lifted his game tonight, leading the way with brutal defence and some good line busts – Willie Mason tended to run side to side too much, and Mark O’Meley remained very one dimensional. The usually big, tough and strong forwards are struggling for the Bulldogs at the moment; the likes of Luke Patten the only shining light for Canterbury. The consistent fullback continuing to be a shining light for the Dogs. The Bulldogs continue to look very unstructured in attack, they saw success when attacking the Cowboys left edge – but should have sent more play in that direction – Sherwin really needs to take control in attack and direct the side.
The Dogs again need to do some soul searching, without a win for several weeks now – its certainly not the ideal platform for another week of finals football. They are lacking cohesion in attack, the did generate some line breaks early on but didn’t have the polish to complete them. As the game wore on, they went into their shells and played too much one out attack – making them easy meat for the Cowboys.