ROUND 8: North Queensland Cowboys v. Gold Coast Titans (1300SMILES Stadium, 3/5/19)

The Cowboys were doubled by the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium in Round 7, while the Titans were virtually doubled by the Tigers, who had won 30-14 at Scully Park. Both teams were keen for a win as a stunning sunset bathed 1300SMILES in pink and purple light, especially since both teams had only won two games this season, meaning the victor of this clash would be the top-ranked Queensland side. In the end, the Cowboys ended up doubling the Titans 28-14, partly due to the return of Jason Taumalolo, who was meant to be out for ten weeks following his injury in Round 2 against the Broncos, but returned early for a barnstorming performance.

Taumalolo didn’t start off well, though, dropping the ball on his first carry of the night. The Cowboys have recently been poor starters, so this was a worrying opening, but the first quarter of the match quickly turned into a disaster reel for the Titans, commencing with a flamboyant flick pass from Bryce Cartwright to Michael Gordon that didn’t find its target. Gordon then made an error beneath Michael Morgan’s first bomb, and Tyrone Peachey and Mitch Rein followed with a pair of slow peels, before Gordon was taken off the field after taking the brunt of Morgan’s hip during a particularly desperate tackle right on the line.

AJ Brimson trotted onto the park much earlier than expected, as the Cowboys responded to Gordon’s absence by trying to further dishevel and disorient the Gold Coast backline, changing the direction of play a few times before John Asiata kicked on the last – a slightly mistimed effort with the boot that ricocheted off Jarrod Wallace and skidded straight through Enari Tuala’s legs, before Philip Sami scooped it and brought it to ground, conceding the first dropout of the game. Jordan Maclean and Matt Scott took the first two hit-ups, making some solid meters before Josh McGuire put down a Gordon pass right on the chalk.

Brimson didn’t have much more luck than Gordon under the high ball, briefly taking his eyes off a Morgan bomb a set later, and fumbling it on his knee to get the Cows the scrum feed ten metres out. The home team headed left immediately, where Jordan Kahu would have crashed over on the first tackle were it not for a spectacular trysaver from Brian Kelly. Nevertheless, Kahu had built sufficient momentum and field position for Jake Granville to scoot out of dummy half and score on the second tackle, breaking a 29-game drought to put the first points on the board.

With Kahu bending the kick around the posts perfectly in front of a brilliant purple sunset, the Cowboys were six ahead and ready to roll. While Brimson secured Morgan’s kick, the take cost him almost as much as his early handling error, since Kahu made the biggest hit of the night with a mammoth fullback-on-fullback effort. The Titans needed a big individual show of strength, and Anthony Don provided it, collecting a late offload from Kelly and kicking at high speed on the right side of the park, for what initially looked like a superb try assist for Ash Taylor.

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Unfortunately for the away crowd, the replay showed that Taylor had lost the footy into Granville before regathering it, costing his team their first try. This was a big consolidation moment for North Queensland, and particularly for Granville, who had scored a try and saved a try in rapid succession. Once more, Brimson struggled under a Morgan kick on the next set, collecting it cleanly but then slipping on the turf to keep the Titans trapped in their own end until the fourth tackle, when Mitch Rein just managed to ferry the football back across the halfway line.

Still, the Cowboys were the next to choke under the high ball, as Kahu surged forward so rapidly to collect a Roberts bomb on the full that he spilled it, giving Gold Coast one of their few genuine attacking opportunities during this opening quarter. Brimson now came into his own, grounding the footy at the end of a rapid left sweep, while maintaining possession during a big combined effort from Kahu and McGuire. Full credit has to go to Tyrone Peachey, who played the pivotal role in the preceding string of passes, turning around and shifting the footy late to Roberts to produce the three-on-one needed to open up space for Brimson on the edge.

The Titans remained two behind aftter Roberts shanked the Steeden to the left of the posts while kicking in lieu of Michael Gordon. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast officials received word that Gordo wouldn’t be back on the park, forcing them to double down with a radically reconfigured backline to counter a Cowboys outfit that were clearly desperate for a decisive home win. Gold Coast looked good on the next set, from a deft offload from Cartwright to a near-linebreak from Rein. While Justin O’Neill took a bit more care than Kahu under the next Roberts bomb, Brimson responded with his best catch of the night so far despite a big chase from Asiata.

With twenty minutes left on the clock, both teams seemed to have found their rhythm, even if Roberts booted the footy straight over the sideline at the end of the next set – an interesting play, given how much both fullbacks had struggled to contend with the high ball over the course of the game. Moments later, Coen Hess collected the ball from Morgan and almost crashed over on his first carry, before Granville came up with a try assist that was every bit as good as his try, scooping up the footy on the left edge, and heading right, only to send a turnaround pass to Taumalolo, who smashed through the defence to score a second Cowboys try.

A leg pull from Brimson had provided Granville and Taumalolo with the platform to combine, but the young fullback made up for his gaffe a set later, collecting the footy in goal and avoiding a dropout, before busting through four tackles, breaking through the line and then sending the Steeden across to Peachey, in a Ben Barba-like display of sinuous speed and strength. Peachey now broke into open space, scooting down the field for what would easily have been the best Gold Coast try if Philip Sami hadn’t been pinged for an obstruction on Granville just as Peachey got the football.

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Granville was never going to reach Peachey, which made Sami’s contact all the more frustrating, especially since it started shoulder to shoulder, but then gravitated into a more clear-cut obstruction. The Titans had now had three amazing individual efforts – Don, Brimson, Peachey – that should have produced two amazing tries. Seeing the second try called back was therefore a big momentum-killer for Gold Coast, who started to decelerate over the last ten mintues of the game, conceding two penalty kicks to the Cowboys following second efforts from Mitch Rein and Kevin Proctor.

A couple of minutes into the second half O’Neill and Kahu suffered from some miscommunication under the high ball, allowing it to bounce past the try line, where O’Neill cleaned up the play but not without conceding another dropout to the Titans. Keegan Hipgrave took the first tackle on the restart, before Gold Coast accelerated on the third, almost sending Kevin Proctor over on the right side of the posts. Sensing the promise lay in that part of the park, the Titans headed right again on the next play, where the tackle count restarted after Ben Hampton got a hand to the football.

This time Gold Coast brought it all together, as a short ball from Taylor sent Proctor through Opacic and over the line. Taking over kicking duties, Taylor slotted the Steeden through the posts, narrowing the scoreline to a converted try – a good start to the second stanza for Gold Coast after their string of bad luck during the opening minutes of the match. If they’d scored on the restart, or even secured a repeat set, they would have been in prime position to reclaim control of the game, but Taylor now sent the footy over the sideline on the full, letting North Queensland off the hook.

The Cowboys then almost came up with one of their most spectacular tries, as Morgan got possession twice on the same tackle on the right side of the park, and almost crashed over both times. Gold Coast survived, even if the Cows kept them bunched up in their end until they made it out of their thirty on the third tackle. Roberts opted to kick early and kick deep, but Kahu brought the ball back to the halfway line on the first carry, before O’Neill contributed one of his hardest runs of the night on the third, forcing the Titans to go on the defence once again.

Morgan took control from here, sending a cut-out pass to Tuala on the fourth before bombing to the left side of the park on the last, where a scramble of jerseys ended with Cooper being pinged for an offside play. This was one of the biggest letoffs of the night for Gold Coasr, so they should have done better than a standard bomb from Roberts, and a kick chase so underwhelming that Kahu was able to just reach out his hands and wait for the ball to find him. With Max King penalised for working on the ground, and Sami struggling with a leg injury, the Titans were losing control, and came close to conceding the most damaging try so far at the end of this set.

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Failing to secure the footy right on the Gold Coast line, Peachey initially seemed to have left the ball open for North Queensland, only for Tuala to also brush it with his fingers before Hess regained possession and slammed it to ground. It was now the Cowboys’ turn to have a try denied, but they still had the scrum feed, which they took as Taumalolo jogged back onto the park to provide them with an extra burst of energy. Meanwhile, Sami joined Gordon on the sideline, resulting in yet another reconfiguration of the struggling Gold Coast backline.

On the other side of the Steeden, Morgan continued to ramp up the pressure, ending the next set with a crafty grubber that Kelly initially brought back into the field of play, before Morgan finished up by dragging him back in goal. This was crunch time for North Queensland, but Cooper made a handling error on the first play, before a flop from Scott got the Titans yet another chance to reverse the momentum. Roberts delivered more this time, busting through a tackle from Kurt Baptiste before forcing Kahu to pop the footy into touch for another Gold Coast dropout.

Roberts’ leadership galvanised the Titans further on the next set, allowing them to make good on Don’s aborted try during the first forty. This time, they started with a more traditional right sweep, culminating with a superb effort from Brimson, who ran up from behind the play, letting Taylor to go deep into the line before collecting the footy, and producing the overlap needed for Don to put down the next four points. Gordon’s absence hit hard now, as Taylor sent the Steeden across the front of the posts, but the Titans were still only two point behind as the last quarter of the game got going.

Gold Coast now had to build on the potential they’d glimpsed throughout the game, which would have comprised one of their best highlights reels of 2019 if their two tries in the first act hadn’t been called back. Conversely, the Cowboys needed both a strong individual effort and a cohesive team effort to get back in the game – and they got both thirteen minutes from the end, when Asiata bookended a sublime sequence by showcasing his diverse skill set, and his capacity to play multiple positions at once, more eloquently than at any other point during the 2019 season.

Once again, the play started with Morgan, who shifted the footy across to Asiata on the left. For a moment, Asiata seemed as if he was sizing up a burst down the wing, before he sent the Steeden off the right boot for Hampton, who scooped it up and stormed down the edge, eventually shifting it back inside to Asiata to continue and complete the play. The result was a stunning vision of the Cowboys’ synergy, both in the interplay between Morgan, Asiata and Hampton, and the interplay of Asiata’s skill sets, bringing them to an eight point lead once Kahu booted through another two.

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The Titans had to score the next try to win, while the Cowboys just had to prevent Gold Coast scoring to stay secure for the final ten minutes. As it came down to the line, both teams went mistake for mistake for a while, before O’Neill made his best catch of the night under a Taylor bomb three minutes out from the end, and then broke through the line on the next Gold Coast set to put down the final try of the night, and his fifth try in the five matches that he has played so far in 2019 – more tries in five games that he had scored in the previous two years of football.

Despite a few close moments, then, the Cows came away double the Titans for their third win of the season. They may be as high as tenth on the ladder depending on how the rest of Round 8 pans out, so they’ll be raring for a big win when they meet the Rabbitohs at Suncorp for the last match of Magic Round on Sunday night. Meanwhile, this was a fairly dour ending for Gold Coast, especially after last week’s loss to the Tigers. They’re now the lowest ranked Queensland team, so they’ll be looking to take advantage of a predominantly Queensland crowd when they take on the Sharks for the first match of Magic Round.

About Billy Stevenson (490 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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