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In a drama-charged night at Dairy Farmers Stadium, the Bulldogs have fallen victim to a Cowboys outfit by just six points, losing 38-32 after trailing by 28 points with twenty minutes remaining.
The Cowboys looked assured victory after just an hour of the game, leading 38-10 on the back of three second half tries. Coach Graham Murray then pulled playmaker Johnathon Thurston from the field, and single-handedly orchestrated a nerve-wracking comeback by the Bulldogs, who made breaks at will, scoring a stunning 22 points in the final 20 minutes to come within a six point deficit of the home side.
The game started in the Cowboys favour after a drop-ball from the kickoff by Bulldog five-eighth Ben Roberts. Shortly after a penalty goal was recorded and the 'Dogs defence fell to bits - two tries to the home side put them 14-0 up after the first twenty minutes. Hitting back, the Bulldogs managed to come within four points before a late second-half try put the North Queenslanders ahead by ten at the break.
The second half was all Cowboys for the first twenty anyway - three tries shared between Justin Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Ben Farrar seeing them cruise out to the 38-10 scoreline which would've suggested to most teams the game was over. Thurston was subsequently benched - then Sonny Bill Williams returned to the field and suddenly the Cowboys turned to dust. Tries to Patten twice, Williams and Tonga saw a stunning revival thwarted only by a break in momentum late in the piece.
Regardless of Thurston's presence or lack thereof - the Cowboys will be concerned about the late poor defensive effort, while the Bulldogs attitude for the first sixty will be something they must address if they are to turn it all around and do the unthinkable by winning the premiership. We may very well see these two teams here next Saturday night so stay tuned to this weekend's NRL action to find out how it all pans out.
North Queensland Cowboys 38 Tries: Ty Williams (2), Ben Farrar (2), Justin Smith, Johnathan Thurston Goals: Johnathan Thurston (7/7) Canterbury Bulldogs 32 Tries: Andrew Ryan, Daryl Millard, Willie Tonga, Luke Patten (2), Sonny Bill Williams Goals: Hazem El Masri (4/5)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Dairy Farmers Stadium is the venue for one of the more important clashes to decide spots in the eight- the third placed Cowboys are facing the fifth placed Bulldogs. Willie Mason in jersey 20 returns for the big clash for the 'Dogs, although they will be missing Mark O'Meley who withdrew yesterday. Fred Briggs in 16 continues in the top grade as O'Meley's replacement.
The Cowboys have lost Neil Sweeney late, replaced by Ben Farra in 18. Stay tuned for kickoff in the next few minutes.
1 min: Ben Roberts drops the ball from the kickoff and the Cowboys go on the attack. No points in it for the home side though and the 'Dogs work it away. Mason takes his first hit-up to a chorus of boos.
4 min: The Bulldogs making good early metres after a first-up scare.
5 min: Referee calls a high tackle against Mason, hitting him around the neck.
6 min: Sonny Bill put on report for a late & high shot on Johnathan Thurston.
6 min: PENALTY GOAL North Queensland Cowboys Thurston converts two points after Chris Armit is penalised. Williams as mentioned on report for an earlier incident. North Queensland Cowboys 2-0
7 min: Aaron Payne drops the ball 30 metres from his own line and the 'Dogs will now go on the attack.
8 min: Tonga drops the ball on the attack as the 'Dogs started looking dangerous.
13 min: Everyone with an attack of the dropsies in what are perfect conditions - just poor handling all around.
15 min: Cowboys heavy on the attack with Thurston and Bowen weaving their magic.
17 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Thurston double pumps and aims a pass down an open wing for Ty Williams to go over in the corner. Poor discipline and generally poor attack sees the 'Dogs down on the penalty count 4-0. The score is now 8-0 with Thurston's conversion. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 8-0
19 min: El Masri trapped in goal after a bad decision to let the ball roll and the Cowboys on the attack again.
20 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Ty Williams scores again off a messy piece of play in the corner. A double up his sleeve and post-conversion the Cowboys now are up 14-0. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 14-0
24 min: A dubious penalty puts the 'Dogs heavy on the attack now.
26 min: The 'Dogs earn repeat sets on the Cowboys line. An imperative time for the visitors to score if they want to win this one. Another penalty now against the Cowboys.
28 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs Bulldog captain Andrew Ryan strikes back for Canterbury with an easy try. El Masri's conversion reduces the margin to eight. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 14-6
30 min: Bulldogs heavy on the attack but no points as the referee rules handover. Cowboys lose it on the next set and seem to be offering the Dogs field position in recent minutes.
31 min: VIDEO REFEREE - Bulldogs. Possible obstruction against the 'Dogs. Decision pending... TRY!
32 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs Daryl Millard goes over out wide and the 'Dogs are storming back on the weight of possession. Sherwin playing a much greater part in the last 15 minutes as the visitors find their feet. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 14-10
33 min: ANOTHER Cowboys drop ball and the butterfingers are costing them. The 'Dogs now with a chance to take the lead on the attack in the Cowboys' 30.
38 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Ray Cashmere bursts through some feeble Bulldogs defence and lets it go for Ben Farrar who scores the try. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 20-10
HALFTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 20 Canterbury Bulldogs 10 A topsy-turvy first half sees the home side up by ten points... but the game far from over. It would appear whichever team has possession will happily cross the line although the Bulldogs have had the lions share through the middle section of the second half and only managed two tries from that. The game is North Queensland's to lose.
41 min: Second half underway. Cowboys first possession.
42 min: Bulldogs to have the first attacking opportunity after the Cowboys drop the ball just inside the 'Dogs half.
46 min: The Bulldogs get a touch-and-go penalty with Bowman claiming the Bulldogs put it out on the full. Dogs work it into the Cowboys half.
48 min: Ray Cashmere penalised for a flop. From the next play SBW drops the ball and the Cowboys will attack.
51 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Justin Smith earns another messy try for the Cowboys after a kick close to the line. The home side looking in far greater control now as the Bulldogs premiership aspirations fade away. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 26-10
53 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Thurston scores after a long range effort and happily converts to put the home side 22 points up. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 32-10
56 min: Video Referee Tim Mander murders the 'Dogs wuth an blatantly wrong penalty... and on the back of it a try is scored.
57 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys The Cowboys running away with it at the moment - Ben Farrar scores a double - although some would argue the field position was not deserved. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 38-10
60 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs The Bulldogs strike back all too late, Tonga crossing relatively easy out wide but the game too far gone. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 38-16
64 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs Points coming easily for the Dogs with Thurston off the field... the gap back to 16 as Patten goes in from long range after an Andrew Ryan break. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 38-22
67 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs The Bulldogs flying home and while it's still a bit too late to be claiming a comeback they're now within 10 points. SBW scores after coming back on! Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri successful. North Queensland Cowboys 38-28
68 min: The Bulldogs are destroying the Cowboys now with Johnathan Thurston off the field. Game not over with 12 to go.
70 min: Crowd: 24,050
72 min: Bulldogs attacking now... one last roll of the dice.
73 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs Patten a double and it's game on! Hazem misses and the gap is six with 6 to go. Conversion attempt by Hazem El Masri unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 38-32
75 min: 'Dogs centre Millard bombs a certain try and the Cowboys will work it away. Breathtaking stuff here at the DFS.
77 min: Roberts and Tonga bomb a try on the opposite side now. Then Jason Smith drops it and it's Canterbury's game to lose! Amazing game of rugby league here.
78 min: Mason drops it close to the line. Cowboys escape again. Two to go!
79 min: Mark Henry wraps up a weak kick and the Cowboys will win this one with not long left.
FULLTIME North Queensland Cowboys 38 Bulldogs 32 A remarkable game of league and with 20 remaining the Dogs were never in it - the subtraction of Thurston from the action saw startling results and based on that final 20... the Cowboys will hit trouble if JT hits injury. The Dogs showed poor form but displayed some vigour in the final minutes to carve up the Cowboys. A real battle in the final minutes - and we may see these two teams here again next Saturday night.