A Valentine Holmes field goal has ended the St George Illawarra Dragons’ season tonight after the North Queensland Cowboys edged them 23-22 in a golden point shoot out.
The Dragons will rue several missed chances with Mikaele Ravalawa knocking on with the line wide open and three Corey Norman line-breaks not leading to points.
Yet, the Cowboys showed a determination not showed often enough this season, fighting back on a number of occasions.
The Cowboys were first to score after a set restart and an offside penalty gave North Queensland field position.
Reuben Cotter found Francis Molo with a deft ball out of dummy half and Molo crashed over for an early try.
After a series of mistakes from both sides, the Dragons levelled in the 25th minute.
Ben Hunt held up the pass nicely for Euan Aitken who proved too much for a back-pedalling Cowboys defence.
The Dragons had clicked into gear and scored again just five minutes later.
Off the back of a seven tackle set, Adam Clune drifted right and found Zac Lomax.
He drew the defence but left Ravalawa with little space to move.
Ravalawa showed great skill to get the ball down in the corner and the Dragons were in front.
With two minutes left in the half, Clune found Corey Norman with a smart inside ball.
Norman ran forty metres but couldn’t find the final pass for the try.
The play was called back after Clune was held back by Scott Drinkwater.
Lomax kicked the penalty goal to give the Dragons a 12-6 lead at the break.
The Cowboys hit back straight after the break. A Jake Clifford bomb was allowed to bounce.
Smart work from Holmes and Kyle Feldt found Clifford backing up and he beat Matt Dufty to score.
Holmes converted from the sideline and the scores were level.
A short side play only six minutes later re-established the Dragons lead.
Clune showed some nice footwork on the left edge and his pass to Jacob Host was too good for the defence.
Still, the Cowboys refused to yield. A mistake by Jordan Pereira lead to a Dragons drop out.
Drinkwater ran it on the last and found Holmes inside who was always going to beat Hunt at close range.
A Lomax penalty goal edged the Dragons ahead 20-18 with sixteen minutes remaining.
However, just three minutes later, Drinkwater was in the action again and a great flick pass to Feldt put the Cowboys in front.
Holmes couldn’t convert but North Queensland held a two point lead.
The Dragons threw a lot at the Cowboys over the last ten minutes but their defence held on.
With just three minutes remaining, an offside penalty hurt North Queensland and a Lomax penalty goal evened things up.
After missed long range field goal attempts from both teams, golden point awaited.
Norman missed the first field goal shot in extra time after a burst from Tyson Frizell.
Two minutes later, the game turned on its head after a Holmes field goal was charged down and six more tackles were ruled.
This time around Holmes made no mistake with his field goal and the Cowboys had won 23-22.
A streak of nine losses had been broken and Josh Hannay had earned his first win as a first grade coach.
For the Dragons, another upset loss had seen any chance of a finals appearance snuffed out.
The Cowboys win was a boost but Josh Hannay, who did not get the gig full-time, showed his disappointment.
“It was a challenging week to say the least,” Hannay said.
“But it’s our job to turn up every day. It’s my job to coach, it’s the players’ job to play.”
Dragons coach Dean Pay did not mince his words when describing the golden point loss.
“Same s–t, different day,” he said.
“For the second week in a row, the game was there to be won in the last five minutes which is what this club wants to be about.
“We want to be fighting for the full 80 minutes, right to the death.
“But this club deserves to win as well. There’s individuals not getting their jobs done – and that’s what’s costing this team.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3 points – Josh McGuire got through a mountain of work in attack and defence, running for 223 metres.
He kept the Cowboys in the game when the Dragons were threatening to get on top.
2 points – Cameron McInnes was the workhorse for the Dragons, running 199 metres and being tireless in defence
1 point – Scott Drinkwater was back to his best tonight, being instrumental to the Cowboys’ fightback in the second half.