A vintage performance from Johnathan Thurston has catapulted the Cowboys into the top eight and broken a 10-year drought against the Bulldogs in Sydney with a 20-12 win at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Statistics painted a grim picture for the Cowboys; the last time they beat Canterbury in Sydney was 3605 days ago in 2004, and it had been eight years since they smuggled two points through quarantine after a game at ANZ Stadium.
But Thurston's two try assists, 13 kicks for 432 metres and eight points might just the motivation the Cowboys need if and when they play finals football. After a lacklustre second term against an exuberant Tigers pack last Sunday, where they conceded more points than any other match in Des Hasler's reign at the club, the Bulldogs were well and truly out for redemption.
They intruded the Cowboys' goal line for the final 15 minutes and probably deserved a try, but some stoic defence put a smile on Paul Green's face.
As the last team in the competition to notch a win on the road, North Queensland's efforts against the Sharks last week reignited a flicker of hope they could overcome a debilitating run of form away from their footballing cocoon north of the border. But with a player of Thurston's calibre on your team, it doesn't take long for the mood fo a club to change.
Suffocating in a mid-table bottleneck, the Cowboys desperately needed Thurston to orchestrate something special and instil a belief that they can compete in an away semi-final. And create belief he did.
James Tamou was taken to hospital for scans on his neck after a swinging arm backfired on James Graham. Sam Perrett was named at fullback by Hasler an hour before kick off which meant he and his 19-year-old brother Lloyd got to play alongside each other for the the first time.
Meanwhile, Josh Morris' return to the centres from a re-aggravated knee injury suffered in Origin was put on the backburner for a week.
On the judiciary front, Blues big man Tony Williams, who slotted into five-eighth, was put on report for a high shot on Robert Lui in a game he would rather erase from the memory bank.
It was an opening period characterised by slopping handling, ill-timed passes and poor options. Thurston's first attacking play came in the 10th minute down the right edge. A ball was given from Kane Linnett and then to winger Matthew Wright who looked destined to score in the corner, before a try-saving tackle from Perrett overturned Gerard Sutton's on-field decision.
But it was an overlap on the left wing which gifted Mitch Brown the opening try in the 13th minute, courtesy of some quick hands from Greg Eastwood and Moses Mbye.
After a superb driving set, Thurston fed a ball to the right edge, where Michael Morgan flicked a deft pass into the hands of Wright who stepped off his right peg to dive past Williams in the corner.
Four minutes later, Thurston executed a perfect cross field kick straight into Wright's bread basket, to put the Cowboys up 10-6, before extending the lead to six a couple of minutes before half-time thanks to a flop from John Asiata 25 metres out from the Bulldogs' line.
On the back of a repeat set, Thurston was at his perennial best with a centimetre-perfect cut out pass in the 47th minute to an unmarked Antonio Winterstein who scored his 10th try of the season.
Canterbury refused to lie down though and showed glimpses of why they are equal second on the ladder, as Tim Lafai made a break down the right side. A penalty ensued, which led to Josh Jackson crashing over in the 61st minute to put the boys from Belmore within a converted try but they could not bridge the gap in the closing stages.
North Queensland Cowboys 20 (M Wright 2 A Winterstein tries J Thurston 4 goals) Canterbury Bulldogs 12 (M Brown J Jackson tries T Hodkinson 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 9,873
- Sydney Morning Herald
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