North Queensland Cowboys ride to Nines win
The Cowboys are the champions of the first ever Auckland Nines, after defeating the Broncos 16-7 in the final.
The side from North Queensland went into the tournament as unfancied outsiders, but were the side that learnt the most about how to play this new form of the game as the weekend went on.
All of the teams had to find their feet in nines and while the likes of the Panthers, Eels and Warriors started the strongest, by the time the 31st and final match of the weekend was played, it was the Cowboys who were clearly the best, realising that it was about moving the ball quickly and spreading it away from the ruck to stop defences getting settled.
In the final the Cowboys’ Antonio Winterstein scored the first try, which came just after Ben Hunt had one ruled out for the Broncos because Sam Thaiday put a foot in touch just before delivering the pass to Hunt.
Curtis Rona scored the Cowboys’ second try in the last minute of the first half to make the score 10-0 at the change of ends.
Hunt finally got a try with three minutes to go by diving in under the posts, but any hope of a comeback evaporated soon after with Rona bagging his second try of the game.
The stadium was half empty by the time this match started and that second score from Rona was the signal for even more to head towards the exit signs.
Earlier, the Cowboys broke the hearts of most of the 45,000 spectators by defeating the previously unbeaten Warriors 8-0, while the Broncos made the final due to their 18-14 victory over the Sharks.
Despite the Warriors having scored points more freely than all of the other 15 teams in the tournament up to the semifinals, incredibly they were shut out by a Cowboys side that had clearly shown they’d mastered the art of playing nines.
They strangled the life out of the Warriors, kept in control of the ball while the Warriors couldn’t make any inroads with either their big forwards or glitzy backs.
It wasn’t Shaun Johnson or Sam Tomkins who stood out, instead it was the man New Zealanders all love to hate, James Tamou, the Palmerston North born forward who turned his back on this country to play for the Kangaroos.
Tamou was powerful up the middle, but also had pace when drifting out wide.
When the two sides met earlier in the day during the pool stages of the competition the Warriors won 28-23, but neither the result or type of match was similar in this semifinal.
The Cowboys went in front in the second minute with Kyle Feldt catching a looping pass that went over the head of the Warriors defence to score.
It turned out to be the only points of the half as errors started to creep into the Warriors’ game and they were unable to find much space out wide for their wingers to exploit.
With the Warriors barely getting their hands on the ball for the first four minutes of the second half they ended up conceding another try, this time to Javid Bowen, who found himself in heaps of space on the right wing.
As much as they tried for the remainder of the match, they couldn’t hit their best form and a weekend that showed so much promise for the local club ultimately ended in disappointment.
The Broncos set up an all Queensland final with the Cowboys, as the Sharks were defeated 18-14 in the match before.
The Warriors had defeated the Rabbitohs 17-16 in their quarterfinal.
With the stadium pumping, the Warriors were holding on for dear life at the end as South Sydney stormed back into the contest after being 17-4 behind with three minutes remaining.
Glen Fisiiahi opened up the scoring for the Warriors off a good Konrad Hurrell offload before Ngani Laumape added a second. Shaun Johnson converted the first try to put the Warriors 10-0 up at the break.
The Rabbitohs struck first in the second half with Chris McQueen grounding a grubber kick, but the crowd were soon on their feet again as Johnson slid in for a five-point try after a 30-metre run.
Nathan Merritt picked up the Rabbitohs' second try to make the score 17-10 before Dylan Walker scored another for Souths less than a metre from the bonus try zone. The margins were tight but that effectively ended the Rabbitohs' hopes.