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Four tries to Dragons winger Brett Morris simply weren't enough for the visiting St George Illawarra this evening in Townsville, succumbing 24-20 to a Johnathon Thurston-inspired North Queensland Cowboys in front of 16,031 fans.
The game started with the momentum heavily in favour of the home side, with the Cowboys the first to convert pressure into points in the eighth minute when Johnathon Thurston crossed, showing the same spectacular form he carried into last nights test to score near to the posts.
The Dragons hit back and levelled the scores in the 29th minute on the back of a number of penalties, although their chances in the period leading up to their first try were continually called by final passes going forward and dropped ball close to the Cowboys line. Brett Morris was the scorer on that occasion - the first of four tries he was to score tonight - then backed up his efforts five minutes later with his second try. Soward swung the kick wide.
At halftime the Dragons led 10-8 after a Thurston penalty goal on the stroke of halftime, and looked to have dominated the latter part of the half.
North Queensland managed to earn a number of repeat sets as the second half got underway, six in a row through a varying number of Dragons errors and penalties - and the pressure finally told as utility James Tamou got over the line and the Cowboys pulled to the front. Johnathon Thurston compounded the Dragons grief not long after with his second try and the Cowboys went eight points clear.
Brett Morris continued to trouble the Cowboys right side defence, grabbing his hat trick to bring the Saints within two points. Thurston matched him less than five minutes later and put his team in a strong position to finish the match with the points, but it wasn't over by a long shot.
With three minutes remaining the Dragons winger scored his remarkable fourth try of the game to bring the Dragons back into the game, and while Soward missed, the game was there for the taking.
The never-say-die attitude of the St George Illawarra side showed through as the next set saw Ben Hornby make a break through the middle. His offload to Matt Prior put the hearts in the mouths but Prior's offload to Wendell Sailor ended up at the feet of touch judge Alan Shortall and the game was the Cowboys' after eighty long minutes.
Next weekend will be an absolute cracker for both sides as we look to Heritage Round - the Saints will host the Bulldogs at Jubilee Oval, while the Cowboys will travel to Auckland and face the New Zealand Warriors.
Match Details North Queensland Cowboys 24 def St George Illawarra Dragons 20 Round 9 - Saturday May 9th, 2009 7:30pm Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium Referee: Ashley Klein, Brett Suttor Touch Judges: Alan Shortall, Russell Turner Video Referee: Tim Mander Crowd: 16,031 Halftime: Dragons 10-8
North Queensland Cowboys (24) Tries: Johnathan Thurston (3), James Tamou Goals: Johnathan Thurston (4/5) St George Illawarra Dragons (20) Tries: Brett Morris (4) Goals: Jamie Soward (2/4)
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys) 2 Points: Brett Morris (Dragons) 1 Point: Ben Hornby (Dragons)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary A solid crowd building at Dairy Farmers Stadium this evening. Plenty of changes, moreso for the Dragons... final lineups below:
COWBOYS: 1. Matt Bowen 2. Ben Farrar 3. Ashley Graham 4. Willie Tonga 5. John Williams 6. Travis Burns 7. Johnathan Thurston (c) 8. Shane Tronc 9. Aaron Payne 10. Matthew Scott 11. Carl Webb 12. Scott Bolton 13. Luke O'Donnell Interchange: 14. Ben Harris 15. Antonio Kaufusi 16. Dayne Weston 18. James Tamou DRAGONS: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Brett Morris 16. Jason Nightingale 4. Matt Cooper 5. Wendell Sailor 6. Jamie Soward 7. Ben Hornby (c) 8. Justin Poore 9. Dean Young 10. Michael Weyman 11. Matt Prior 14. Dan Hunt 15. Neville Costigan Interchange: 18. Nick Emmett 19. Mathew Head 21. Jon Green 22. Mickey Paea
The teams are on the park and we're just about ready for kickoff.
First half kickoff: Game underway, Saints with first possession running right to left from the broadcast side.
1 min: Good Cowboys defence sees the Saints pushed back to 25m out on the fifth, Jamie Soward puts a good kick in but it doesn't get past the 40m line and the Cowboys attack. The hosts then run the ball on the last, and Saints wrap them up easily.
3 min: PENALTY Dragons - laying in the ruck costs Luke O'Donnell and the Cowboys as the Dragons are piggy-backed out of the danger zone.
5 min: PENALTY Dragons - Michael Weyman is tackled and the Cowboys defenders are carrying on with it... another piggy-back into an attacking position.
6 min: Cooper gets a fantastic left-edge overlap and is away, but brought down short. They go to the right and Soward plays around with the Cowboys defenders before being tackled. The ball is then pushed back to the left and the ball knocked on over the line.
7 min: PENALTY Cowboys - a dubious call against the Saints for a supposed lifting tackle. Seen plenty worse get away scot-free.
8 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Johnathon Thurston picks up where he left off from last night's fantastic performance and scores the opening try of the game. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 6-0
11 min: PENALTY Dragons - in fantastic field position for them to hit straight back. Luke O'Donnell holds onto some Dragon shirts with the intent of earning a penalty but the referee won't have a bar of it and penalises O'Donnell. Two tackles in and the Dragons cough up the ball.
13 min: A length-of-the-field set of six sees the Cowboys force repeat sets.
14 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Cowboys try. Checking for obstruction as Ben Farrar crosses near the posts. NO TRY. Dragons penalty.
16 min: Travis Burns drops it cold and it's a chance for the Saints to even the ledger inside the Cowboys half. PENALTY as Thurston and co. carry Sailor over the touchline after the tackle's been completed.
18 min: Brett Morris goes over in the corner but the final pass is clearly forward. Cowboys out of gaol.
19 min: Another fantastic end-to-end set from North Queensland forces the Dragons in-goal - a repeat set here, can Saints hold them out?
21 min: Cowboys run it on the last with no luck. Wendell's mouth is running hot tonight but his actions have earned the Dragons a PENALTY and they'll come out of their own end safely.
23 min: Some scintillating through-the-hands play for St George Illawarra ends in a drop ball from seemingly injured winger Brett Morris.
26 min: Another forward pass, this time Soward turns it out to Morris again but the touchie is onto it. Saints finding it hard to get past the Cowboys line.
29 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons The Cowboys spread the ball wide... Payne throws it out and INTERCEPT! Brett Morris takes the ball, pushes off one and puts the foot down. Nobody will stop him! Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward successful. 6 all
33 min: The Cowboys looking hot but a drop ball in the lead up costs them.
34 min: PENALTY Dragons - the visitors with the lions share of the 9 penalties blown so far.
36 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons The Dragons go wide on the left for the umpteenth time and the last pass is good - Brett Morris is in and he's got a double. Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward unsuccessful. St George Illawarra Dragons 10-6
38 min: PENALTY Dragons - Brett Suttor's fed up with the Cowboys - the penalty count 8-2 in favour of the visitors. Suttor calls Thurston and O'Donnell over and gives the latter a warning about his language. Thurston offers "don't blow the pea out of your whistle"... perhaps his team should stop infringing.
40 min: PENALTY GOAL North Queensland Cowboys Matt Cooper drops the shoulder into Travis Burns as the Cowboys five-eighth is chasing through a Thurston grubber, earning the Cowboys third penalty. The Cowboys captain has no problem adding two points as we go to the break. St George Illawarra Dragons 10-8
HALFTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 8 St George Illawarra 10 The Cowboys came out firing but a spate of penalties through poor discipline really gave the Saints the upper hand. A lot of final options falling over for the visitors though, they should be ahead by more. The game is definitely anyone's at this stage.
Second half kickoff: Cowboys will get first use of the ball as play resumes.
42 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Cowboys try. Thurston looks to have crossed but we're checking obstruction and double movement.... NO TRY. Penalty for double movement.
43 min: Weyman coughs up the ball right in front 30m out. Cowboys to attack again.
44 min: Another repeat set as a Thurston kick prompts Soward to spill the pill. A Cowboys PENALTY for inside the ten and compounded by another PENALTY with Cooper going slightly high. They go at the line again and O'Donnell's spilled it!
46 min: Oh you've got to be kidding - they're ruling it's a legal strip taken place and the Dragons player is tackled in goal. No advantage extended to the Dragons... line drop out. Poor decision.
48 min: Another Saints knock on as they receive the ball after the Cowboys fifth. They must score here.
50 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys The sheer weight of possession gets the Cowboys over the line finally, bench player James Tamou crashes over beside the posts and the home side re-claims the lead! Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 14-10
54 min: Saints finally getting some possession again after conceding 5 consecutive sets on their own line, and looking more disciplined.
55 min: Cowboys knock on 30m out from their own line. Saints scrum, ball goes to the short side... Jason Nightingale tackled and spills it! Cowboys scrum now.
57 min: PENALTY Cowboys - O'Donnell's poor ball control works in his favour as the referee rules a strip and they home side with a chance to go ten in front here...
59 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Referee Ashley Klein ignores the blatant forward pass from Willie Tonga as he's held up over the line, Thurston receives it and dots down and the Cowboys are in pole position now. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 18-
64 min: The Cowboys squander the chance to pressure the Saints as a high kick is easily diffused by Brett Morris.
66 min: A fantastic break down the left flank by Morris and he's dragged down 20m out. PENALTY Dragons as the Cowboys are caught inside the ten.
67 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Brett Morris finishes what he started and claims his hat-trick as the Cowboys defence crumbles under pressure. Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward successful. North Queensland Cowboys 18-16
68 min: PENALTY Cowboys. Saints spill it from the kickoff and concede a penalty in the play-the-ball. They spill it themselves three tackles later and the Dragons are off the hook.
70 min: Drop-a-thon at Dairy Farmers, Saints have coughed it up again and the Cowboys will look to wrap the game up.
71 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Thurston cuts through and completes his treble as the Cowboys shore up their lead going into the final ten. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 24-16
73 min: PENALTY Dragons - Wendell Sailor's niggle manages to earn the Saints another much needed penalty. They've gotta score here to win. The Cowboys tackle a player without the ball in this set and it's another Dragons PENALTY.
75 min: Unlucky bounce for the Saints on Soward's fourth tackle kick allows Farrar to run the ball out of the in-goal. A mistake free set from the Cowboys should win them the game here.
76 min: PENALTY Dragons - one last shot to get within a few!
77 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons Brett Morris gets FOUR! "Anything you can do I can do better" against Thurston. Soward's miss means there's four points in it and 90 seconds for the Dragons to equalise or win. Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 24-20
79 min: HORNBY'S AWAY! Inside, Prior! Prior to Sailor... NO! It's into touch!! The Cowboys will come away with the victory at Dairy Farmers.
FULLTIME: North Queensland 24 St George Illawarra 20 A thrilling finish but just not enough for the Saints - a Thurston special - the second in 24 hours, has seen the Cowboys home against the high-flying Saints.