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The North Queensland Cowboys have withstood a late charge from the St George Illawarra Dragons to come away as 20-16 victors in Wollongong this afternoon.
The victory was highlighted by an outstanding defensive display from the Cowboys in the first half, and a tremendous performance in attack from half back Johnathan Thurston at key moments in the match.
Despite having only 41% possession in the first half, the Cowboys were able to post the first points with a penalty goal and converted try to take an 8-0 lead after 17 minutes of play.
The Dragons finally got the board after 29 minutes when half back Jamie Soward was able to dive onto a loose ball in the in-goal.
At half time, the Cowboys held a narrow 8-6 lead.
With more possession going their way early in the second half, and eventually evening up, the Cowboys were able to cross twice; and by midway through the second half, the visitors had raced away to 20-6 lead.
But the Dragons mounted a comeback, scoring two tries of their own to set up a thrilling final 10 minutes. With Soward, and backs Mark Gasnier and Ben Hornby repeatedly steering play into the Cowboys' half, it appeared that an unlikely win was on the cards.
But in the end, the Cowboys were able to do enough to secure the two competition points, with forwards Luke O'Donnell and Carl Webb laying the platform for Thurston.
The match was marked by numerous penalties (10-6 in favour of St George Illawarra), and a number of decisions from referee Tony de las Heras and video referee Graeme West which at times had supporters on both sides scratching their heads.
Match Details Round 5 - April 12th, 2008 5:30pm Venue: WIN Stadium Referee: Tony de las Heras Crowd:
St George Illawarra Dragons 16 Tries: Jamie Soward, Jason Nightingale, Stuart Webb Goals: Jamie Soward (2/2), Mark Gasnier (0/1) North Queensland Cowboys 20 Tries: Johnathan Thurston, Anthony Watts, Justin Smith Goals: Johnathan Thurston (4/4)
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys) 2 Points: Mark Gasnier (Dragons) 1 Point: Luke O'Donnell (Cowboys)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Conditions looking good for this afternoon's match in Wollongong. Both teams still in the sheds. Cowboys team as per the card. Dragons team: Josh Morris will replace Chase Stanley (shoulder injury) on the wing. Saints also have back rower Ben Creagh and lock Dean Young returning from injury.
Teams coming onto the field...
Dragons to kick of... KICK OFF!
2 min: NO TRY - Dragons denied when video ref Graeme West rules obstruction. Controversial decision as Jamie Soward seemed to slice through OK, but the video ref ruled against the decoy runners.
5 min: PENALTY GOAL North Queensland Cowboys Five eighth Johnathan Thurston gets an easy shot at goal after Dragons prop Jason Ryles is marched 10m for back chat following a penalty. North Queensland Cowboys 2-0
FROM THE RESTART, DRAGONS KICK OUT ON THE FULL!
7 min: Cowboys on the attack but the Dragons survive, Cowboys kicking it dead on the last.
8 min: Dragons on the attack after Cowboys fullback Ashley Graham spills the pill while trying to field a kick. But Cowboys survive following a Dragons knock on. End to end stuff.
14 min: Video ref checking for a possible Dragons try... VERDICT - NO TRY. Video ref rules that Rangi Chase was unable to ground the ball and the replay supports this. Saints with a couple chances and close to scoring twice in the last five minutes. 20m restart to the Cowboys.
17 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Thurston chips over the top from 10m out, a Dragons defender gets a hand on the ball but Cowboys forward Luke O'Donnell is able to take the ball on the full, and pass to Thurston who is backing up after his own kick. Conversion attempt by Thurston from 12m wide is successful. North Queensland Cowboys 8-0
22 min: Saints now with their third repeat set at the Cowboys line, but a forward pass from Soward to Gasnier releases the pressure.
24 min: Following a handling error from the Cowboys, Dragons get another set at the line... and then another. Great defence from the Cowboys but they keep coughing up possession to give the home side repeat shots.
29 min: Video ref looking at possible try to the Dragons.... VERDICT....
29 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Soward gets benefit the doubt on the put down following a deft chip kick from five eighth Rangi Chase. Soward was there to clean up the dregs. Questionable but its a four-pointer and the Dragons are finally able to turn pressure into points. Conversion attempt from in front by Soward successful. North Queensland Cowboys 8-6
35 min: Some extraordinary decisions from the the referees going against both sides. This time a tough call against the Cowboys on the 5th tackle for a flop, and then the video ref ruling a knock on against the Dragons when it was clearly a strip. Some frustration starting to creep in for the players.
Half time: Cowboys 8-6 Dragons with majority possession (59%), field position, and plenty of opportunities. Cowboys defence has been outstanding. At this stage the game is there for the taking. If the Cowboys manage a majority of the possession in the second half, Thurston should be able to step up to the task.
Second half underway...
43 min: Possible try to Cowboys, video ref looking... VERDICT...
43 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Hooker Anthony Watts barges over from dummy half, surviving video ref scrutiny over the man playing the ball impeding the defence. Wide conversion attempt by Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 14-6
50 min: Cowboys gaining the ascendancy with Thurston putting togrther some clever plays and asking a lot of the defence. Dragons however are able to respond and get a roll on downfield to put the Cowboys on the back foot. Overall the Cowboys are showing better discipline.
56 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Justin Smith scores following a break downfield in the previous play, set up by Thurston who handled the ball a number of times. Soward was able to save the try with a great tackle from behind on Ashley Graham, but the Dragons line was shot to bits; it then became a simple catch and pass to the ummarked men outside. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 20-6
66 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Winger Jason Nightingale scores in the corner, leaping high to pull down a cross-field kick from Rangi Chase. Follows a big break downfield from Mark Gasnier after Ben Hornby put him a gap, Dragons score a few plays later. Conversion attempt by Gasnier unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 20-10
69 min: Possible try to Dragons. Video ref looking.... VERDICT....
69 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Stuart Webb is given the nod on the grounding and Saints are marching back! Try set up by a magical pass from Ben Hornby onto Stuart Webb who crashed over. Conversion attempt from almost in front by Soward is successful. Cowboys guilty of their lack of discipline in giving away a few penalties, and letting the Dragons back into the game. North Queensland Cowboys 20-16
75 min: Dragons appear to be finishing the stronger of the two teams. A dropped ball from Ben Creagh lets the Cowboys off the hook. But then the Cowboys cough up possession and its still game on!
79 min: Scrum packing down on the Cowboys' side of half way - Cowboys with the feed. Follows a dropped from Dragons second rower Beau Scott. Cowboys have possession and should hang on.
80 min: Sensational scenes with the Dragons getting a penalty right on full time, but deep in their own half.
Full time: The Cowboys just hanging on to win 20-16. Gallant effort from the Dragons to come back but they were always in strife with the Cowboys posting a handy lead midway through the second half.