Cowboys Riding High

North Queensland coach Graham Murray refused to apologise for his underrated team's climb up the National Rugby League ladder after the Cowboys cast aside erratic Manly 31-20 at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.

North Queensland scored five tries to three to continue its push for an historic finals appearance.

The Cowboys have yet to reach the playoffs despite eight years of trying since joining the premiership in 1995, but their vital win over the Eagles bolted Murray's men to the fringe of the finals zone.

It was a doubly important two competition points for the Cowboys, with the 10th-placed Eagles shaping as one of their rivals for a position in the bottom half of the eight.

"If we keep winning, we can't keep apologising for climbing up the ladder," Murray told League Correspondent after North Queensland's fifth success from 10 outings this season.

Manly coach Peter Sharp could barely contain his disgust after the Eagles squandered another opportunity to join the eight.

He said it would be "rubbish" to blame the defeat on the extra energy his players expended in last Sunday's dramatic golden point triumph over Parramatta.

"Every time we get a chance to do something in the competition we seem to make a mess of it and we certainly did that tonight," Sharp moaned.

"I'd like to congratulate the Cowboys. They were more disciplined than us and they certainly defended better than us.

"Our performance was poor, very poor. It was a four-point game for us.

"We've got the bye next week and we're at home (tonight). It was sub-standard, that's all I've got to say on the whole subject."

Manly winger John Hopoate had a running battle with North Queensland forward Paul Rauhihi all night.

The pair constantly came together and, at one point late in the first half, each earned a stint in the sin bin for their unnecessary involvement in a minor scuffle featuring several players from both teams.

The Eagles were awarded the penalty on that occasion, and another when Rauhihi jostled with Hopoate later in the game, but the Cowboys had the last laugh.

They scored while Hopoate was in the bin to grab a lead they would maintain for the rest of the match.

"I was thinking when I was off (in the bin), we were probably better off without me than they were without him," Rauhihi said.

North Queensland led 14-8 at halftime and went on with the job professionally after the break.

Sharp-shooting centre Josh Hannay continued his near-90 per cent success rate with the boot this season with five goals from six attempts.

His goalkicking heroics complemented his try, giving him a 14-point haul for the night.

And try scoring winger Matt Sing enhanced his claims for a Queensland State of Origin recall with another double to take his tally to 12 in 2003.

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