An inexperienced and under-strength North Queensland Cowboys looking to the future welcomed a battle-hardened and equally injury-hit Manly Sea Eagles side determined to stay in finals contention.
The opening stages of the game were all Manly, with the Cowboys fighting bravely not to concede.
However, after multiple sets, Curtis Sironen picked up a short ball and beat the weak tackles of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Daejarn Asi to score.
After conceding, North Queensland took control of the game, and Jake Clifford peppered Jorge Taufua with high bombs. which gifted the Cowboys a few sets on the bounce.
Unfortunately, handling errors from Jason Taumalolo and Jake Clifford allowed the Sea Eagles to stay six-points ahead.
With just under 15 minutes to the break, the Sea Eagles lead was increased.
Brad Parker managed to win a fresh set of six after being denied a quick play-the-ball, but Danny Levi still picked up from dummy-half and burrowed over from a metre out.
Just over five minutes later, Cherry-Evans took the ball to the left-hand side and pushed the ball to Jack Gosiewski and crashed over Mitchell Dunn and looked to have grounded the ball.
On second viewing, Dunn did enough to hold Gosiewski over the line and deny the Sea Eagles another score.
In the Cowboys very next set, charging runs from Taumalolo and company gave Clifford room to kick over towards Jorge Taufua and Kyle Feldt climbed higher than his opposite number to claim the ball and score.
HALF-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 6-12 Manly Sea Eagles
With five minutes gone in the second-half, the Cowboys forwards charged upfield to leave the Sea Eagles spread all over the field.
Gavin Cooper was the closest to get to the line though, but resisted the urge to ground the ball as he was loosing control.
With the game still hanging in the balance, the Cowboys brought Taumalolo back onto the field, but that didn’t stop the Sea Eagles.
Cade Cust made a break from the half-way line, and passed back inside to Daly Cherry-Evans who raced away over the line.
However, Kyle Feldt did enough to wrap up the half-back to top the initial grounding.
Cherry-Evans turned over in the ground and managed to get the tip of the ball on the ground before Tabuai-Fidow could get underneath the ball.
In the 64th minute, Brendan Elliot knocked the ball backwards after a long kick from Jake Clifford, but was called a knock-on by referee Henry Perenara.
This gave the Cowboys and midfield scrum from 10-metres out, and Coen Hess should have pulled a try back for the home side.
Asi dropped the ball onto the left-foot and seemed to bounce perfectly for Hess but the ball seemed to slip through his hands and the Sea Eagles were let off the hook.
Moments later, Cust opted to run the ball on the last for Manly and the half-back beat the tackle of Franics Molo, and burrowed underneath Tabuai-Fidow to score.
The try-scoring continued a minute later, but this time it was the Cowboys who finally hit back.
Clifford took the ball to the line and popped the ball onto Josh McGuire, who then tipped the ball to Francis Molo who crashed over from short range.
Time was running out for the Cowboys with three minutes to go, but a break from Tabaui-Fidow set up the perfect opportunity for his side to score.
A quick play-the-ball allowed Clifford to spread the ball to Murray Taulagi, who offloaded to Justin O’Neill to try and cross.
However, the centre couldn’t grab the ball and the knocked on over the touchline.
The Cowboys would have the ball in the hand for the final 20 seconds, but it wasn’t enough time to score another try and the game was called.
FULL-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 12-24 Manly Sea Eagles
North Queensland Cowboys
Tabuai-Fidow, Feldt, Dunn, Taulagi, O’Neill, Asi, Clifford, McGuire, Robson, Molo, Wright, Hess, Taumalolo
Interchanges: Gilbert, Cooper, Cotter, Hampton
Tries: Feldt, Molo
Goals: Feldt (2/2)
Manly Sea Eagles
Elliot, Taufua, Parker, Suli, Garrick, Cust, Cherry-Evans, Fonua-Blake, Levi, Taupau, Thompson, Sironen, Trbojevic
Interchanges: Croker, Gosiewski, Paseka, Waddell
Tries: Sironen, Levi, Chetty-Evans, Cust
Goals: Garrick (4/4)
Referee: H. Perenara
Touch Judges: T. Smith, G. Badger
Video Referee: B. Norrie
Image Source: @NRL (Twitter)