Warriors overpower Cowboys for vital win
AARON LAWTON AT MT SMART STADIUM
The Warriors have charged to a 35-18 win over an under-strength North Queensland Cowboys side in a thrilling attacking contest at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland this evening.
With four of their top stars - Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou, Matt Scott and Brent Tate - ruled out due to State of Origin commitments, the in-form visitors were always going to struggle.
And struggle they did in a match that looked all but decided by half-time when the Warriors boasted a 22-12 lead going into the sheds.
Against an inexperienced Cowboys side which wasn't helped by the loss of talented halfback Ray Thompson to a shoulder injury before half-time, the Warriors were indeed the better side.
Better, that is, but they were also a long way from perfect and in a second half where the Cowboys came to life, they very nearly lost this one before setting Mt Smart Stadium alight in the final 10 minutes.
On attack, the Warriors were flashy and often asked questions of their rivals from all over the paddock.
Playmakers Shaun Johnson and James Maloney and fullback Kevin Locke, in particular, proved hard to handle for the visitors.
But defensively, the Warriors continue to have issues out wide and a better Cowboys side may have made this more of a contest than it was.
That said, the result was only ever in doubt for a short period in the second half before the hosts decided to wake from their slumber and seal the deal.
In a dominant first half, it took all of four minutes for the Warriors to stamp their mark on the match after Johnson slipped down the left-hand side of the field and around three would-be tacklers before passing on to Ben Henry, who comfortably scored near the posts.
Moments after the restart, the Warriors looked certain to score again when back-rower Feleti Mateo easily broke through the line. But only some desperate defence from the Cowboys kept them at bay.
In reality, though, it was only a matter of time before they sniffed out their second of the afternoon and, sure enough, Konrad Hurrell, who later left the field with a hamstring complaint, soon charged over out wide.
Then, just three minutes later when Henry added to his haul with a simple try after Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen failed to pull in a James Maloney bomb, it looked as if it was going to be a one-sided affair.
The Cowboys had other ideas, however, and finally got on the board midway through the half when centre Kane Linnett made a mockery of the Warriors' right-edge defence to run over almost untouched from 20m out.
Still, boasting most of the possession, the Warriors remained in control and once again extended their lead after prop Jacob Lillyman ran the perfect line to score against his old club.
But just when it looked liked the Warriors would head into the break with a seemingly unassailable lead, Cowboys veterans Matthew Bowen, who was simply superb at the back, and Ashley Graham combined for a four-pointer to keep the hosts in the game.
Leading 22-12 after the break, the Warriors would have wanted to score early to crush any hint of a Cowboys comeback.
But with mistakes creeping into their game, they struggled to do just that and, unsurprisingly, it was the visitors who showed their hand first, scoring in the 52nd minute through Gavin Cooper.
Caught napping, the hosts needed some inspiration and midway through the second half they appeared to get it when the electric Locke sprinted down the field and looked set to score, only to be pulled in by Bowen.
Desperately clinging on to a tenuous four-point lead, the Warriors started to crank up on attack but, time and again, found themselves inches short as the Cowboys defended with everything they had.
But finally, with just over 10 minutes left on the clock and the pressure ramping up, hooker Nathan Friend, in his first game back after breaking his jaw in early May, somehow found a way through to score under the posts and give his side some breathing room.
Lewis Brown then scored in the next set before Maloney nailed a field goal to put the result beyond doubt, much to the relief of the 15,374 fans in attendance.
Warriors 35 (B Henry 2 tries, K Hurrell, J Lillyman, N Friend, L Brown
1 try; J Maloney 5 cons, 1 fg) Cowboys 18 (K Linnett, A Graham, G Cooper 1 try; M Bowen 3 con) HT: 22-12 Warriors
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