North Queensland Cowboys, fresh off a loss to Wests Tigers, faced a high-flying Newcastle Knights side looking to move top of the table at the Country Bank Stadium.
After an even first five minutes, the Knights were the first to go close as Lachlan Fitzgibbon crashed to within inches, which was followed up by Andrew McCullough burrowing over, but the hooker was held up.
Minutes later, an error from Gehamat Shibasaki in the tackle gave the Cowboys the chance to attack from just ten metres out, and the ball was spread left to Justin O’Neill who walked over for the first points of the game.
The next five minutes was all North Queensland, as they took control of the game, and camped inside the Knights half.
After McCullough was penalised for crowding, directly in front of the posts, the Cowboys opted to take the two points and Feldt converted to make it 8-0.
North Queensland extended their lead minutes later, as Reece Robson ran from dummy-half following a quick play-the-ball from Esan Marsters, broke the line past Tim Glasby, and with just Kalyn Ponga to beat, passed left to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow who raced away under the posts for his first NRL try at 18.
The dominant spell from the Cowboys continued as Jake Clifford to on the line, and after slipping through the tackles of David Klemmer and Kalyn Ponga, outmuscled Kurt Mann to twist out the tackle and fall over the line.
With just under half an hour gone, the Cowboys led 20-0, but after some ill-discipline the Knights worked themselves inside the 20-metre line.
Unfortunately, the fifth tackle kick from Mitchell Pearce was caught in the in-goal by the Cowboys for a 20-metre restart and seven tackle set.
The home-side would finish that set with a goal-line drop out of their own, but Newcastle held out after a poor pass from Tom Opacic.
The Knights looked to pull a score back before the break, as they forced a goal-line drop-out of their own after a Ponga kick, but a knock-on from Daniel Saifiti straight from the drop-out to let North Queensland off the hook.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Tim Glasby had failed his Head Injury Assessment.
With just minutes to go until half time the Cowboys picked up try number four, as Jake Clifford’s kick into the corner was lost in the sun by Edrick Lee, which allowed Kyle Feldt to get in front of his opposite number to claim the ball and ground the ball.
HALF-TIME: North Queensland 26-0 Newcastle Knights
The second-half started mich bright for Newcastle, and after just a minute and a half into the second period, Lachlan Fitzgibbon was put through a huge gap by Daniel Saifiti, and passed inside to Tex Hoy who raced away for his first NRL try.
North Queensland hit straight back though, as they spread the ball out left to Tom Opacic who, instead of reaching out to score, offloaded just inches from the floor, and Coen Hess gathered the ball to dive over.
With half an hour to go, the Knights pick up their second try, as Kalyn Ponga finally got himself in some space to release Hymel Hunt on the right hand edge. It looked as though Opacic managed to get across to stop Hunt, but the Knights man did just enough to ground the ball before his feet touched the whitewash.
The Cowboyts 22-point lead was cut further with just over 20 minutes to go, as Kurt Mann ran at the line, and stepped inside Tabuai-Fidow and through the tackle of the full-back and Coen Hess to get over the line to score.
Any hope of a Knights comeback looked to be shut down as with 17 minutes to go, Esan Marsters cut back across the Newcastle defence to collect a pass from Clifford and crashed over.
However, the try was disallowed after Reece Robson stood in the defensive line stopping Knights defenders from getting across to Marsters for a tackle.
Three converted tries in 15 minutes was easy enough for the Knights to achieve, but they’d have to keep North Queensland from scoring another try.
Luckily for the Knights, Scott Drinkwater’s kick in behind the defensive line bounced awkwardly for Esan Marsters and the centre couldn’t grab the try he desperately seeked.
Daniel Saifiti looked to put the Knights on the front foot with just over ten minutes remaining, but the prop forward dropped the ball to stop that momentum instantly.
Further errors from the both side meant the game became sloppy coming into the final five minutes.
With six minutes to go, a poor fifth tackle kick from Mitchell Pearce was picked out of the air by Justin O’Neill, who raced 98 metres to score a try. However, Scott Drinkwater interfered with Aiden Guerra which stopped the forward competing for the ball. This meant O’Neill was brought back and the score remained 32-16.
From the resulting penalty, the Knights spread the ball to the left-hand edge, and yet another half-break from Fitzgibbon was enough for the second-rower to offload to Shibasaki who dived over in the corner.
Ponga missed the conversion to make it 32-20 with four and a half minutes to go.
With a minute left, Ponga dropped the ball onto his foot for Hymel Hunt to chase.
The winger gathered, and passed inside back to Ponga, but the full-back was tackled without the ball.
Unfortunately, Ponga was deemed to be too far away from the try-line for a penalty try to be awarded, but Drinkwater was sent to the sin-bin and the Knights won a penalty.
The professional foul from Drinkwater was a game-winner for the Cowboys, and the game was over as soon as Sione Mata’utia dropped the ball just two tackles later.
FULL-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 32-20 Newcastle Knights
North Queensland Cowboys
Tabuai-Fidow, Feldt, O’Neill, Marsters, Opacic, Drinkwater, Clifford, McGuire, Robson, McLean, Hess, Wright, Taumalolo
Interchanges: Molo, Hampton, Cooper, Hola
Tries: O’Neill, Tabuai-Fidow, Clifford, Feldt, Hess
Goals: Feldt (6/6)
Ponga, Lee, Tuala, Shibasaki, Hunt, Mann, Pearce, Klemmer, McCullough, D. Saifiti, Fitzgibbon, Mata’utia, Glasby.
Interchanges: Hoy, J. Saifiti, Ese’ese, Guerra
Tries: Hoy, Hunt, Mann, Shibasaki
Goals: Ponga (2/4)
Referee: M. Cecchin
Touch Judges: J. Stone, L. Kennedy
Video Referee: B. Galea
Image Source: @NRL (Twitter)