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The Cowboys have held off a thrilling comeback from the Bulldogs to take the inaugural Reconciliation Cup 26-16 in front of 15,412 fans at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
It was a match that started incredibly slowly, with neither team able to maintain possession and sustain pressure, but once it got going in the second half, it was a classic encounter that showcased the brilliant attack that both sides are capable of.
Backing up from Wednesdays Origin opener, Cowboys halfback Jonathan Thurston showed no signs of fatigue, having a hand in all of his teams tries, and kicking five goals from five attempts in a man of the match performance.
Following a scrappy first half from both teams, Thurston came out and stamped his authority on the game almost immediately, laying on two quick fire tries within six minutes.
The first of those was a lovely chip behind the defensive line, which Thurston regathered and passed on for Bowen to race away for his second of the night.
On the very next set, Thurston was at it again, taking the ball to the line on halfway, and offloading to Sione Faumuina, who in turn passed it on to Ty Williams, who raced away down the touch line, and found Faumuina again to score the try. The following conversion gave the Cowboys a 24-0 lead, and the Bulldogs looked gone for the night.
However, no-one told this to the Bulldogs, and in the 50th minute they kickstarted what looked to be a thrilling comeback, beginning with a try to point-scoring wizard Hazem El Masri.
The next fifteen minutes was a terrific showcase of attacking and defensive brilliance from both sides, with both sides making line breaks at will, yet unable to convert these breaks into points due to fantastic cover defense. The only points in this period came through a Thurston penalty goal in the 59th minute.
The Bulldogs were in for their second in the 68th minute, via a lovely catch and pass from Daryl Millard to Andrew Emelio to cross over in the corner.
Less than two minutes later, and the Bulldogs were in yet again. On the third tackle of the restart set, El Masri found himself in space down the left hand touchline, until he found his captain Ryan in support to touch down in the corner, despite heavy attention from Thurston.
This set up what would be a thrilling final 10 minutes of the match, however neither team were able to score any additional points, so the scoreline remained 26-16 at full time.
The first half was a forgettable affair, with both teams seemingly experiencing a phobia of holding onto the ball. The rare times that the Cowboys were able to hold onto the ball resulted in points through tries to Matt Bowen and Shane Tronc, with Thurston featuring heavily in both.
The only sour note of the night for the Cowboys was a rather serious looking injury to Paul Bowman in the first half. Bowman appeared to cop an accidental knee to the back of the head or neck, and was stretchered off the field. Footage from inside the sheds at half time showed Bowman sitting up and drinking a bottle of water, so the injury didn't appear to be as serious as first thought, but Bowman will no doubt still have precautionary scans to make sure any permanent damage was not sustained.
Bulldogs 16 vs 26 Cowboys
Round 11 - Full Time :: May 25th, 2007 07:30 PM Venue: Suncorp Stadium Referee: Tony Archer
Canterbury Bulldogs (16) Tries: Hazem El Masri, Andrew Emelio, Andrew Ryan Goals: Hazem El Masri (2/3) North Queensland Cowboys (26) Tries: Matthew Bowen (2), Shane Tronc, Sione Faumuina Goals: Johnathan Thurston (5/5)
League Unlimited Live Commentary:
Welcome to Suncorp Stadium for tonight match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys. The two teams will be playing for the Reconciliation Cup, which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that voted to include indigenous Australians in the national census.
Team changes are as such: For the Bulldogs, Willie Mason is out after picking up a hamstring injury in Wednesday night's State of Origin opener. Mark O'Meley returns from injury tonight in jumper number 20, and finds himself starting the match in place of Mason. Nick Kouparitsas drops off the bench. For the Cowboys, all their Origin representatives will back up. The starting side is as per programme, with the only team changes coming on the bench. Scott Bolton, Jackson Nicolau and Rod Jensen drop off the bench, with Jensen having been released by the Cowboys during the week to take up a contract with Huddersfield in the ESL. The Cowboys bench now reads David Faiumu, Sam Faust, Ben Vaeau, and John Frith.
Congratulations to Cowboys veteran Jason Smith, who will play his 200th First Grade game tonight.
Both teams are now out on the field, with the National Anthem to be performed tonight by Leah Purcell...who appears not to know the words to the song!
Kickoff is now only moments away.
0 min: And Thurston gets the Reconciliation Cup underway!
2 min: An early break for the Cowboys, with the Bulldogs almost scoring after going the length of the field via two consecutive sets.
4 min: A long, floating forward pass from Matty Bowen to his cousin Brenton has given Canterbury excellent field position, starting their set 10 out from the Cowboys line.
5 min: Brenton Bowen gets the Cowboys out of trouble, intercepting the ball to gain possession back for the Cowboys, then catching the Bulldogs offside for an easy ride out of their own territory.
7 min: It's an intercept-a-thon early, with Sherwin snatching a Cowboys pass out of the air 10 out from his own line and pinning his ears back, before finding Millard after it becomes evident he doesn't have the pace he had last week. The Bulldogs take the ball the length of the field, and trap Brenton Bowen in his in-goal to earn the repeat set.
10 min: Both teams having trouble keeping possession of the ball, either knocking on, or giving away an easy intercept.
11 min: Ball handing really becoming a problem now, with at least 4 handling errors in the last 2 minutes. The latest costing the Cowboys a certain try, with Southern dropping the ball cold over the line.
13 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys And the Cowboys strike first through Matt Bowen. The play started down on the Cowboys 40, with Cashmere taking a regulation hit-up to the line, and offloading back to Payne, who sliced right through the Bulldogs defense, and found Matt Bowen backing up, who then raced away 50 metres to score under the black dot. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 6-0
19 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys The Cowboys are in again, this time via big boppa Shane Tronc. After giving away possession on the restart set, the Cowboys looked in trouble as the Bulldogs spread it wide to the left with an overlap, and looked certain to score. The Cowboys survived, however, and made the Bulldogs pay for their inability to hold onto the ball. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 12-0
22 min: The Dogs almost score, with Millard grounding a Sherwin grubber just outside the dead in-goal line. Millard obviously filthy with referee Archer, thinking it should have gone to the video ref.
25 min: VIDEO REF - Possible Cowboys Try...
25 min: NO TRY - 20 meter restart. A lucky, lucky break for the Dogs there, who had the ball from a scrum on their own 30, only for Ben Roberts to lose possession on the very first pass from the scrum.
26 min: Ball handling still an issue, with Willie Tonga unable to handle what was a poor pass from Roberts. Making matters worse, Tonga threw the ball away in disgust, giving the Cowboys a penalty and a cheap ride out of their own end.
33 min: The Cowboys survived an attacking raid by the Bulldogs, ending with a penalty to get an easy ride out of their own half, only for Thurston to fail in finding touch, so the Dogs go back on attack.
34 min: INJURY - Paul Bowman has been injured in what looked like a stock standard tackle. Replays show he may have picked up an accidental knee to the neck from Jarrad Hickey. The stretcher has been called.
34 min: The players and crowd all applaud as the Medicab slowly takes Bowman from the field.
35 min: Thurston gets hit after offloading the ball to Tronc, and looks to have picked up a leg injury, but seems to have walked it off.
39 min: The Bulldogs blow their best opportunity of the game. 10 out from the line, with El Masri at dummy half following a quick play-the-ball, El Masri takes a dart to the short side, before passing to Jarrad Hickey to cross over for what looked like a try, only to be called back for a forward pass.
HALF TIME: And it's half time here at Suncorp Stadium in what can only be described as a scrappy game of football, with both teams error counts into double figures. The Bulldogs lead in most of the major stats (more meters gained, less errors made, less tackles made, less missed tackles), yet poor 5th tackle options, and poor handling close to the Cowboys line have kept them scoreless in the game so far. The Cowboys haven't been much better than the Bulldogs when it comes to losing possession when it counts, yet have been able to hold onto the ball twice to put two tries on the board, to give us our half time score of 12-0.
Live pictures from the dressing room show Paul Bowman sitting up in the dressing room, drinking a bottle of water. It seems as though his injury isn't as serious as first expected, but he won't be seen again tonight for precautionary measures.
Both teams are back onto the field, and ready to start the second half.
40 min: And Brent Sherwin gets the second stanza underway!
43 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys The Cowboys strike early in the second half, with Matt Bowen grabbing a double thanks to some Jonathan Thurston brilliance. Looking to kick long at the end of his set, Thurston sees big empty space behind the defensive line, so changes strategy and chips for himself, regathers, then puts his pedal to the metal before finding Bowen on the inside to cross for the try. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 18-0
46 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Faumuina gets in on the party, grabbing his own try with the Cowboys threatening to break this game wide open. Running the ball on the last tacke on halfway, Thurston takes it to the line, before offloading in a tackle to Faumuina who in turn passes the ball on to Ty Williams. Williams races down the sideline before he is greeted by Matt Bowen, at which point he throws a lovely pass inside to Faumuina to cross over and grab the spoils of a lovely worked play. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 24-0
50 min: The Bulldogs in real trouble here. 10 minutes into the second half, and the whole half so far has been played down their end of the field, with the Cowboys threating to score at will.
52 min: VIDEO REF - Possible Bulldogs Try...
52 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs After 52 minutes, the Bulldogs finally get on the board, via point scoring machine Hazem El Masri. Working the ball out from their own end, Sonny Bill Williams got a beautiful offload away in heavy traffic to his captain Ryan on the halfway line, who backed his ability and raced down field, before finding Tonga, who in turn found El Masri before he went into touch. El Masri then crossed over to get the Dogs back into this game. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 24-6
56 min: Bulldogs receive a penalty late in the tackle count, to give them a fresh set down on the Cowboys 10.
58 min: INJURY - Adam Perry being assisted from the field with concussion.
59 min: PENALTY GOAL North Queensland Cowboys Cowboys get a penalty for Chris Armit being all over the player in the ruck, and don't hesitate to go out to more than a 3 converted try lead. North Queensland Cowboys 26-6
64 min: Willie Tonga has just bombed a certain try. Roberts made a huge break from well inside his own half and raced downfield. He found Tonga in support, who for some reason chose to run with the ball in one hand out in front of him. The ball was knocked out of his hand by his own right knee, handing possession straight back to the Cowboys.
68 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs A catch-and-pass play from Daryl Millard sees Emelio cross in the corner. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 26-10
70 min: VIDEO REF - Possible Bulldogs Try...
70 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs Well, hold the phone here, the Bulldogs have now gone back to back, and with 10 to go we have ourselves a ball game. Hazem El Masri made a huge break down the sideline, and found his captain Ryan, of all people, in support to then touch down in the corner under heavy attention from Thurston. Thurston is absolutely livid that the try is given. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 26-16
79 min: Even though they've got this match wrapped up, Ty Williams has just pulled a Scott Sattler and come from the opposite side of the field to chase down Ben Roberts, who was set to score a consolation try for the Dogs, and force him into touch. Outstanding stuff from Williams.
FULL TIME: And it's full time here, with the Cowboys withstanding a fast finish from the Bulldogs to take the inaugural Reconciliation Cup 26-16.
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Johnathan Thurston 2 Points: Matthew Bowen 1 Point: Andrew Ryan