ROUND 14: North Queensland Cowboys v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 15/8/20)

Saturday’s match in Townsville was one of the most exciting in Round 14 – a real arm wrestle that ended with a one-point win for South Sydney off an Adam Reynolds goal at the seventy-ninth minute. Campbell Graham found some early metres up the right edge, and Reynolds followed suit, getting the Bunnies their first restart in the process, and the first really sustained attacking sequence three and a half minutes into the match.

Cody Walker finished off with a crossfield kick to the right corner, where Reece Robson got the footy back, as the Rabbitohs tried to over-compensate at the end of the next set, when Graham knocked back another terrific Reynolds bomb, only for the visitors to concede rapid field position off an error from Su’A, and then a ruck infringement from Graham, who had been all over the park during these early minutes. Despite this sudden surge, which continued through an offside penalty for Tevita Tatola, the Cowboys didn’t get to the end of their next set, as Alex Johnston intercepted a messy cut-out ball from Connelly Lemuelu to get his men rolling back down the park again.

Everything now started to consolidate for the Bunnies, as a triple pump from Reyno was followed by a good kick from Walker, and while Kyle Feldt did well with the take, he put down another poor pass from Lemuelu on the right edge a set later. The South Sydney backline now stepped up, as Latrell Mitchell and Graham laid a strong platform for Liam Knight to storm up the middle. Reynolds finished with a superb chip-and-chase, from the twenty, beating Scott Drinkwater to get the footy down untouched.

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No surprise that Reynolds added the conversion, getting some joy after a spotty start against the Broncos last week, as the light started to turn golden over QCB. Su’A helped the Bunnies rack up their post-contact metres on the restart – they were now at 142, compared to the Cowboys’ 87 – and they got a phantom call of six again as Walker put boot to ball, before the game paused when Feldt landed awkwardly out of a crusher tackle from Knight, who gave away a penalty in the process.

North Queensland now had their first really food attacking position, and Josh McGuire and Jordan Maclean got them rolling with big runs up the middle of the field. They shifted left on the third, where Coen Hess took another good carry, before Michael Morgan opted for a rapid right sweep that ended with Lemuelu crashing over for his first NRL try, after Mitch Dunn ran deep into the line to clear up space for him on the wing. Feldt took the tee almost all the way back to the thirty metre line, but shanked the Steeden away to the right of the posts, but McGuire continued to be massive on the first tackle of the next set, grimacing into an even tougher carry.

Maclean followed by taking the second hit once again, as the Cows notched up some of their best metres so far, attempting to settle into back-to-back tries. Morgan ended it all with his best kick so far, booting it from the forty for it to bounce in the twenty, and then sit up awkwardly for Jaxson Paulo, who never had a chance of bringing it back after a swarm of North Queensland jerseys descended on him in goal.

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This marked the start of the biggest period of field position for either team so far, as Jason Taumalolo started to get into first gear, taking the first and then the third tackle of the dropout, when he paused with the footy as the Bunnies received another blow – Knight being taken off for an HIA, forcing Mark Nicholls into the spotlight much earlier than expected. Maclean now made the biggest run at the line so far, and Hampton rivalled rivaled Morgan’s last kick by bombing in directly in goal, where Johnston leaped up to catch it on the full and then came to ground in the face of a tough kick chase from Morgan.

Maclean was even more restless to break through the line on the next tackle, and Hampton looked like he might duck through it on the second, eventually resorting to his no. 10’s energy again, as Maclean responded with a fast pass to Morgan to tempt Walker into an offside penalty within the ten. North Queensland could easily have levelled the score here, but instead chose to tap and go, seeming destined for a four-pointer when an enormous effort from Taumalolo drew in three defenders beneath the posts, and receiving yet another repeat set when Mitchell bumped the next kick into touch.

This was a pretty unlucky call for Latrell, who would have ushered the footy over the dead ball line if Dunn hadn’t pushed him into it, but the Bunnies didn’t have time to worry about the decision when the Cows got a further restart early in the tackle count, consolidating on the right edge only for Morgan to lob a forward pass out to Lemuelu to bring all this splendid field position to an end – or so it seemed, since a Graham fumble on play one finally set them up for the four points they’d been searching for over their last great surge.

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After so much searching and questioning, the Cowboys consolidated immediately now, moving through big tackles from Dunn, Hess, Dunn again, and Taumalolo, all of whom exhausted the defence enough for Morgan to dummy to Feldt and then break through himself, making up for his forward pass in the most spectacular and decisive way. Johnston was deceived by the dummy, Dane Gagai couldn’t complete the tackle, and Cook and Latrell arrived too late, as Morgan pulled the Steeden into his chest and slammed it down, bringing North Queensland to an eight point lead after Feldt’s kick careened off the right post and into a beautiful tropical sunset.

The Cows continued to draw deep on this big burst of field position, nearly scoring again on the restart after a ruck infringement from Cameron Murray on the second play, yet another first tackle run from Moose, and then a brilliant kick from Drinkwater that Tabuai-Fidow flicked on to Hess in the left corner. Even though the Hammer knocked it forward here, he regathered immediately on the next North Queensland set, when he collected a sublime Drinkwater kick on the full – booted from deep within the Cows’ thirty – and got the best of the South Sydney backline, weaving around Paulo and outpacing Latrell for the fastest run of his career so far.

This was such a neat sequel to the last North Queensland try that it effectively felt like they’d gone back-to-back, especially since the Bunnies had moved through the interim set pretty rapidly. Once again, though, Feldt missed the conversion, this time from the other side of the park, keeping it a four-point game as the last ten minutes of part one arrived.

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It didn’t take the Bunnies long to bounce back, despite a cold drop from Latrell under the high ball that initially seemed to betoken another surge of North Queensland points. Sure enough, only a massive trysaver from Graham prevented Tom Opacic crossing over on the left edge on play one, but an obstruction penalty from Robson now reversed the momentum for South Sydney, who also got a second wind when Knight was cleared from his HIA to trot back onto the park. Everything moved pretty quickly now, from a restart on the first play, to a strong run from Nicholls on the next first play, to a rapid left sweep on the second that ended with Gagai smashing over of a silky pair of passes from Reynolds and Walker.

All the big no. 4 had to do was dummy slightly to the left to get away from Feldt and thereby clear a space between the big men, as the Rabbitohs levelled the score once Reynolds booted through the extras four minutes from the siren. North Queensland might have dominated possession over the last quarter, but the Bunnies had proved they didn’t need much to score – and continued to do so after the break, when Johnston put them ahead once again with another brilliant try. Before the happened, however, Feldt finally got his two points, booting through a penalty kick on the brink of half time when Knight was called offside within the ten.

This was a pretty disappointing way for the big second-rower to return to the park, but the memory vanished five minutes into the second stanza, when Cook sent a superb cut-out pass for Johnston to cross over in the left wing, for the simplest and most elegant try of the night, converted just as seamlessly by Reynolds a minute later.

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A rapid and relatively consistent sequence of tries now shaped the last thirty minutes of the game, cementing it as the best arm wrestle of the year so far. The Rabbits got the restart rolling with a few good runs, but a fumbled play-the-ball from Walker gave the Cowboys their next chance pretty quickly – and they capitalised on it pretty quickly too, charging up the left edge on the first two tackles, before McGuire straightened the play on the third, and Morgan almost sent Lemuelu over for a double on the right wing.

From here, Morgan showcased his best organisation of the night, popping the footy back to Hampton, who got Drinkwater in position for a kick that ricocheted off Su’A and was knocked on by Nicholls to get the Cows a repeat set from the ten. Once again, Morgan directed the play right on the first, nearly sent Francis Molo over beneath the posts on the second, and then scored the toughest try of the night on the third, when he collected the Steeden right on the line, and seemed easily wrapped up by Cook, Su’A, Gagai and Bayley Sironen, only to twist around, get his left arm free, and slam the footy down as all four defenders collapsed on top of him.

While Feldt finally got a conversion, the Bunnies showed they could return the favour three minutes later, when Reynolds proved why he’s the best short kicker in game, booting through a perfectly weighted low ball that forced a dropout from the Hammer, who only just got to it before Paulo arrived behind him, hungry for a try on the wing. This repeat set was all South Sydney needed to score, as Graham collected a flat ball from Cook on the third and brushed off Dunn, off a rapid play-the-ball from Patrick Mago to get it all rolling.

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Reynolds added another conversion, and we were back to a four-point game, but the Cows showed South Sydney they could also score next try – and their best try – off a single error, which came when Johnston hesitated and fumbled a Morgan kick that ricocheted obliquely off the back of Damien Cook.

Dunn came up with it at the thirty and made the best dummy of the year, seeing Gagai and Walker surging in from the right, and then shaping as if to move or pass left, sending both defenders on their way as the right opened up for him to crash over untouched. With the game wrapped up at 24-24, both teams went set for set and error for error, in the longest gap between tries during this second stanza, but the Bunnies got their mojo back when Feldt made the biggest leap for the ball all night, and went too high, tumbling over Johnston to spill it right on the line.

South Sydney got a further surge off a subsequent error from Hampton, but, in the biggest gaffe of the night, Cook fumbled the footy off the scrum feed from Reynolds, who wasted his Captain’s Challenge to contest it. With only seven minutes on the clock, we were starting to enter field goal territory, but instead the Cows took a shot at the line. It paid off, as Opacic followed Tabuai-Fidow by collecting a Drinkwater kick on the full, leaping above Graham, and bobbling it from hand to hand, before securing it and slamming past Reynolds to put North Queensland six ahead once Feldt added the extras.

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It wouldn’t have been right for this closest of contests to end with anything other than a one-point finish, so it felt apt when the Bunnies put down their next try off the next North Queensland error – a lost ball from Jake Granville three tackles into the restart. Tom Burgess took the first hit, Reyno shifted right on the second, Tatola straightened the play on the third, and Latrell sent Johnston over for his second try of the second half, for what initially looked like a potential eight-pointer after late contact from Granville.

In yet another of the twists that had kept levelling the score all night, the Bunnies didn’t get the eight-pointer, Reynolds missed his first conversion, and then got his first and last penalty kick off a hand in the ruck from Feldt, bringing us from 24-24 to 30-30 as the last two minutes of the match arrived. He only had one chance to booth through the 20th field goal of his career to prevent the game going into golden point, and drilled it through with forty seconds on the clock – the perfect ending to one of the most exciting games, and one of the most exciting final quarters, of the 2020 season.

While the Bunnies made have expected a bigger win margin over North Queensland, this late comeback would have cemented their confidence in a different way, bringing them to seventh on the ladder as they get set to take on the Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this was an agonizingly close match for the Cowboys, who will be looking to draw on their adrenaline, momentum and amazing set plays during this match when rock up in Newcastle to play the Knights on Saturday.

About Billy Stevenson (739 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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