The Cowboys again defied the absence of some State of Origin representatives on Friday night, carving out a 31-12 win over the Dragons in Townsville to solidify their spot in the top four.
The rejuvenated Cowboys, now sitting in second on the ladder, shot out to a 20-0 lead in only 30 minutes to set up a 10th win of the season and ensure the Dragons remained just outside the top eight.
North Queensland won despite not having young forwards Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai, who both featured in the Maroons’ 16-10 triumph over the Blues in the Origin opener.
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Speedster Valentine Holmes, who notched his 150th NRL match, backed up for the Cowboys two days after turning in a blinder for Queensland, while rising half Tom Dearden also played after missing round 13 due to Origin duty.
The Cowboys’ win was soured by a potential season-ending injury to young back-rower Heilum Luki, who suffered a suspected ACL rupture.
The Dragons are sweating on the fitness of veteran forward Josh McGuire, who succumbed to a groin injury, and Anthony Griffin’s men could also lose prop Blake Lawrie and second-rower Jack Bird.
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Lawrie was reported for a late and high shot on playmaker Tom Dearden, before Bird was reported for a hip-drop tackle on front-rower Jordan McLean.
Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston stressed the importance of the club banking wins during the Origin period.
“This is a first for them, having so many players in State of Origin, so the next six weeks is a really important block for the Cowboys moving forward,” Thurston said on Nine’s post-game coverage.
“A little bit off tonight with their attack but defensively still very strong.”
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Dragons second-rower Tariq Sims didn’t back up after the Origin opener, but halfback Ben Hunt did.
One member of the Maroons squad, Murray Taulagi, continued his try-scoring spree in the win over the Dragons.
St George Illawarra centre Zac Lomax botched a flick pass early in the second half and Taulagi pounced, swooping on the footy and dotting down on the left edge.
The Dragons will host the Rabbitohs in Wollongong next Thursday, before the Cowboys meet the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval a day later.
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