Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
13 hours ago
The North Queensland Cowboys recent domination over the St. George-Illawarra Dragons continued tonight as the Cowboys ran riot to defeat the joint venture club by 34-10.
The Cowboys started out strong, with two unanswered converted tries and a penalty goal taking them out to a 14-point lead. The Dragons had numerous opportunities to put themselves on the scoreboard, but the Cowboys defence was extremely strong, which has now become a familiar trait of their 2004 season. To illustrate just how strong the Cowboys defence was, in the first half they only missed one solitary tackle, which must be some sort of record.
The Dragons were able to score just on the stroke of half time to give the St. George-Illawarra side some hope at 14-4, but things didn't start out the way they had hoped in the second half.
The Cowboys scored twice within the first 12 minutes, with Matthew Bowen heavily involved in both of the tries.
The Cowboys looked like they were running away with the match until St. George-Illawarra winger Nick Youngquest scored a length of the field try against the run of play after scooping on a loose ball after a bomb. That try gave the Dragons a sniff with 20 minutes to go, but they weren't able to capitalise.
The North Queensland side scored two late tries, the latter of which has to be up there with the best tries of the year, as the movement went about 70 metres and included a deft flick pass from Matt Bowen to set up a flying Josh Hannay who scored underneath the posts.
It was an extremely entertaining contest, especially from the Cowboys perspective. Their forwards were outstanding, and easily outmuscled their bigger and more fancied counterparts. Paul Rauhihi led from the front as usual, emassing 220 metres from 20 hit-ups. Luke O'Donnell was another standout as he continues to impress with his new club in 2004.
Nathan Fien led the side around spectacularly with a clever kicking game which enabled the Cowboys to get the better field position for most of the match. The recent trend of starting Matt Bowen off the bench seems to be working wonders for Graham Murray, as when he comes on around the 20 minute mark he completely sparks the North Queensland side, and tonight he was extremely dangerous as usual, setting up a few tries and scoring 2 himself.
For the Dragons, they were simply out-enthused. They are missing some big names through injury, but realistically they should've put a better performance in than they did. Nick Youngquest played well in his Dragons debut, while Jason Ryles and Lincoln Withers were the other picks of the Dragons players.
The Cowboys have every right to be confident as they head into the finals if they continue this sort of form, and they could very well upset a few teams if they're not taken as a serious threat.
Scorers: COWBOYS 34 Tries: Bowen 2, Williams 2, Bowman, Hannay Goals: Hannay 5/8 DRAGONS 10 Tries: Creagh, Youngquest Goals: Head 0/1, Riddell 1/1
By the clock: PRE-MATCH: A vital game for both sides, with the Cowboys trying to secure a top 8 position and the Dragons trying to move up the competition ladder to perhaps get a chance at a home semi final. A fairly big crowd is on hand in Townsville to see the Cowboys play, who will have Matt Bowen starting from the bench once more. Dragons winger Nathan Blacklock is out due to injury, with Nick Youngquest his replacement.
0 min: NEWS - The Dragons have kicked off as the match is underway!
5 min: NO TRY - Cowboys. After some good field position from the Cowboys, Travis Norton put up a great bomb as Rod Jensen lept up high and collected the ball to score what looked like a try, but Jensen knocked back the ball and it hit a player in an offside position, leading to a penalty to the Dragons.
10 min: NEWS - The Saints had 3 back-to-back sets of six near the North Queensland line but the Cowboys goal line defence was outstanding and managed to keep them scoreless.
12 min: TRY - Cowboys. The North Queensland side went the length of the field, as after some good lead up work from Norton and Fien, Ty Williams ran 30 metres - and through several defenders - to score a great try. Hannay converts. Cowboys 6-0.
14 min: NEWS - Ben Creagh was felled in a high tackle by Josh Hannay which was put on report. Penalty to the Dragons.
20 min: PENALTY GOAL - Cowboys. After repeated offside penalties by the Dragons, Hannay slotted an easy 2 points. Cowboys 8-0.
25 min: NEWS - Aaron Wheatley was penalised for a trip on Matthew Bowen. Josh Hannay elected to try for another penalty goal from 40m out, but it was waved away. Cowboys still 8-0.
28 min: NEWS - The Dragons are playing boring, predictable football and are too one-dimensional. They've hardly troubled the Cowboys defence at this stage of the match which has been excellent.
33 min: TRY - Cowboys. After some repeated pressure on the Dragons line, Matthew Bowen threw a great dummy to run under the posts to score a great individual try. Hannay converts the try. Cowboys 14-0.
39 min: TRY - Dragons. The Cowboys eventually cracked after a long ball from Head to Creagh who scored under the sticks. Head missed a sitter of a kick from right in front. Cowboys 14-4.
40 min: HALF TIME.
The Cowboys lead 14-4.
The Dragons have had the better completion rate but they hardly troubled the Cowboys apart from just before the half time siren. The Cowboys defence has been outstanding and their pack has been overpowering its higher touted counterparts. The Cowboys have only missed 1 tackle, which is an amazing statistic.
Penalties: Cowboys 4-1 Completions: Cowboys 14/19; Dragons 16/19 Line Breaks: Cowboys 2-1 Mistackles: Dragons 14-1 Offloads: Cowboys 11-5 Errors: Cowboys 8-3
41 min: NEWS - The Cowboys have kicked off and we're underway in the second half!
44 min: TRY - Cowboys. An awesome backline movement from the Cowboys with decoys, run-arounds and cut out passes which resulted in Paul Bowman receiving the ball close to his line and stepping through a defender to score close to the posts. Hannay converts the try. Cowboys 20-4.
49 min: NEWS - The Cowboys have trapped the Dragons in the in-goal area after a great long kick from Nathan Fien and an enthusiastic chase from the home side.
52 min: TRY - Cowboys. Matthew Bowen scored a replica of his first try as he sold the defence a dummy and strolled over to score near the posts. The Cowboys are on fire. Hannay misses another relatively easy kick. Cowboys 24-4.
56 min: NEWS - Nick Youngquest flew down the right hand wing for the Dragons but some last ditch defence from the Cowboys saved a try as he was bundled into touch.
60 min: TRY - Dragons. After a bomb was put up by Nathan Fien, the ball spilled loose and Nick Youngquest scooped it up to race 80m to score a try against the run of play. Riddell converts the try. Cowboys 24-10.
65 min: NEWS - The Cowboys are enjoying the better possession rate, as they've had 54% of the ball so far.
68 min: NEWS - Trent Barrett blew an almost certain try when he ran the ball on the last when he had an overlap on his right hand side, and because of that he turned possession over to the Cowboys.
72 min: NEWS - Travis Norton has come from the field with what looks to be a serious ankle injury.
73 min: TRY - Cowboys. After a nice bomb from the Cowboys, Ty Williams pounced on the loose ball to score what should be the match-winner. Hannay misses the conversion. Cowboys 28-10.
77 min: TRY - Cowboys. Amazing team try from the Cowboys which went about 65 metres! Bowen set it up with a deft flick pass to Hannay who dove underneath the posts to score. He converts his own try to rub salt into the wounds. Cowboys 34-10.
80 min: FULL TIME.
The Cowboys win 34-10.
The Cowboys win in an entertaining affair in a match which they were always in control of. The North Queensland side out-enthused their counterparts and played some outstanding football in the process. The Cowboys are headed to the finals if they continue to play at this standard.
Penalties: Cowboys 5-4 Completions: Cowboys 31/40; Dragons 26/37 Possession: Cowboys 54% Dragons 46% Line Breaks: Cowboys 5-2 Mistackles: Dragons 31-9 Offloads: Cowboys 18-11 Errors: Cowboys 13-11
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - Nathan Fien (Cowboys) 2 - Matthew Bowen (Cowboys) 1 - Paul Rauhihi (Cowboys) -----------------------------------------