Cowboys sneak home in a classic

Match Summary The North Queensland Cowboys have emerged triumphant in a fantastic finals clash with the Canterbury Bulldogs in front of a very parochial Townsville crowd to leave the Bulldogs 2007 season hanging by a thread.

This was a ferocious battle between two very determined sides for the full eighty minutes, featuring bucketloads of sparkling attack, desperate defence and heroes aplenty. Both sides lifted several notches from their Round 25 clash and proved that they are more than worthy finalists this year.

The Bulldogs started very strongly but the Cowboys took full advantage of their rare trips into the opposition half to post two quick tries against the run of play and open up a 12-0 lead after 18 minutes. Their first try was a typical Cowboys special, with star halfback Johnathan Thurston finishing off some great lead-up work by Carl Webb, Aaron Payne and Matt Bowen.

Just as the home side were looking likely to run away with the match the Bulldogs hit straight back with two quick tries of their own - and it could have been three if winger Matt Utai could have held on to an Andrew Ryan pass following a clean break through the Cowboys defensive line. Both teams had further chances to score in the first half but strong defence and errors under pressure shut down any opportunities. Each side added a penalty kick to keep the scores locked up at 14-all going into the halftime break.

The Bulldogs came out firing in the second half but the Cowboys used two of their own ex-Bulldogs to score first, with Jason Smith providing a beautiful pass under pressure for Johnathan Thurston to cross for his second try of the night. The Bulldogs once again managed to hit straight back thanks to a bust from Andrew Ryan and some super support play from Luke Patten, leading to a 20-18 scoreline in favour of the home team after 55 minutes.

Not one of the 24,000 fans in the crowd would have thought the match would remain scoreless for the last 25 minutes, but despite the lack of points there was certainly no lack of action. A frantic battle of punch and counter-punch unfolded as both teams threw everything they had at each other, but the Cowboys were able to hold on despite some desperately close scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs. Willie Mason was held up over the line with four minutes to go, and shortly afterwards Hazem El Masri was denied a try by the slimmest of margins thanks to a fantastic try-saving tackle by the magical Matt Bowen.

Thanks to this result the Cowboys will have a second finals match at home, and that will be a huge boost to their chances of progressing further. Unfortunately they may have to do it without forward leader Carl Webb who succumbed to a leg injury late in the game, and Jacob Lillyman could find himself facing the judiciary for a swinging arm on Luke Patten in the first half.

The Bulldogs never gave up tonight but poor discipline let them down at key times - although referee Paul Simpkins also contributed with a few