The North Queensland Cowboys have overcome an early ten-point deficit to defeat a determined Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs 28-14 in the NRL's inaugural match in the coastal town of Bundaberg.
It was the first NRL competition game to be played in the coastal city of Bundaberg, we did have some NRL trials played here in 2016. The sold-out crowd enjoyed every minute of the game and it was a strong start from the ‘home' side in this one.
The opening kickoff went out on the full (via a Bulldogs challenge) and the Cowboys' defence fell away. Canterbury's first try came off the ensuing set and it was a great grubber from Matt Burton Josh Addo-Carr stole the ball off Peta Hiku and the Dogs hit the early lead. The swirling breeze the Cowboys were running into created further kickoff problems and the ball (and ensuing momentum) swung back to the ‘visitors'.
North Queensland thought they had an immediate response when Tom Dearden carried two Dogs defenders over the line, but the video referee believed Kyle Flanagan was obstructed by Valentine Holmes and the try was overturned. The next ten minutes were an eventful combination of errors and ill-discipline, but the Cowboys were unable to turn any momentum into points. Up the other end, the Dogs were brutal and off a routine scrum play, it was Burton who threw a dummy and ran it right over the try-line to give the Bulldogs a 10-0 advantage.
The Cowboys slowly worked their way back into the game and off some poor ball handling and ill-discipline from the Bulldogs, Griffin Neame crashed over off his first touch of the footy. Neame ran over the top of a couple of defenders on his way to the try-line which helped to reduce the margin to four. Off the ensuing set, Chad Townsend's bomb was spilt by Averillo and with the fresh set, it was a great offload from Luciano Leilua to Chad Townsend who shrugs away from several defenders to cross and level the game up. That's where the score stayed at the change of ends.
Straight after the break, an escort penalty was awarded to the Cowboys although this one was less controversial than a few weeks ago. Holmes converted from point-blank range to give the Cowboys their first lead of the afternoon. As would be the case in this see-sawing contest, the lead would be short-lived when another Burton kick caused nightmares for the Cowboy's back three. Jacob Kiraz took the bomb before a miraculous offload to Kyle Flanagan and the Dogs were back in the lead.
A controversial off-side penalty against the Bulldogs cost them dearly. Luciano Leilua was on the receiving end of a great offload from Reece Robson and the Cowboys forward crashed over the top of four defenders to score and regain the lead for his side. Holmes converted to extend the margin out to four points. From there, the final ten minutes turned into the Scott Drinkwater show with the standout fullback scoring a quick-fire double. The first came off a great run from Robson out of dummy half and he found Drinkwater and the Cowboys were eight points clear. From there, the Cows were on a roll and Drinkwater grabbed a second off a good run through the middle to seal a 14-point victory.
North Queensland have a tough road trip next Saturday when they go toe to toe with the Sydney Roosters at the SCG. While the Bulldogs go head to head with the New Zealand Warriors in New Zealand which is one of the game's more challenging road-trips.