A Jack Hetherington send-off sparked a sluggish Sunday afternoon clash between the Cowboys and Bulldogs into top gear with the hosts having to withstand a late 12-man comeback to hold on.
Hetherington was sent for a 55th-minute swinging arm on Valentine Holmes with the Cowboys fullback setting up a try soon after that looked to have ended the contest at 24-6.
The match review committee on Monday charged Hetherington with a grade-three careless high tackle which equates to a five-game ban if he submits an early guilty plea, or six if he unsuccessfully contests the charge at the judiciary.
The club announced on Monday that Hetherington would front the judiciary although the Bulldogs have not decided whether they are contesting the charge or seeking a downgrade.
He has three offences in the past two years which have inflated the 300 base penalty points.
Match: Cowboys v Bulldogs
Round 6 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
A fired-up Canterbury rallied after the send-off in Sunday's game and scored the next two tries to close the gap to six points and had what could have been the level-up try disallowed for an offside player three minutes before full-time in dramatic scenes at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett said he did not think Hetherington's hit was intentional while Cowboys counterpart Todd Payten was adamant the send-off was the correct decision in the circumstances.
Match Highlights: Cowboys v Bulldogs
"He certainly caught him high," Barrett conceded.
"It wasn't an intentional shot from Jack, he just hung his arm out and Val's ok ... I haven’t had a look at it yet, to be honest with you."
Canterbury's response after the incident was one of the positives to emerge from the game, he added.
"That's one of the positives you could take out of it, they were gallant, but we shouldn't have been in that position," he said.
"We turned over too much cheap ball, failed to build any pressure at all when we were in the game at 6-all at half time.
"We played some of our best footy through that middle third of the field when we did have 12 men. There's certainly some lessons around where those errors are coming from."
Canterbury's first-half attacking game plan seemed to consist of little more than frantic offloads and shovelled passes.
But they fired up after Hetherington's send-off with a couple of pieces of Sione Katoa brilliance giving the home side an almighty scare from what had seemed a comfortable position, up by 18 with a one-man advantage midway through the second half.
A few poor errors early in the contest from the Bulldogs invited the Cowboys to attack, with Kyle Feldt leaping high and latching onto a Ben Hampton cross-field kick for first points in the eighth minute.
A Hetherington offload in front of the Cowboys posts caught everyone off guard except Renouf Atoni, with the prop steamrolling Holmes on his way to the line to level up after 14 minutes.
The Cowboys botched a couple of golden chances in the Dogs' red zone but the last-placed Bulldogs were even less effective in their rare attacking chances as each team failed to add further points before the break.
Holmes finds space around the ruck to set up Granville
Early in the second half, with Kyle Flanagan temporarily down in back play and just 12 men in the line, the Dogs conceded a soft try through the middle to Reece Robson who sold Ofahiki Ogden a big dummy to cut past Dylan Napa.
With Jake Granville injected into the fray at the 50-minute mark pulling the Dogs middles apart, the veteran rake produced a flat ball to help rookie edge forward Ben Condon to his second try in as many games. Holmes remained perfect off the tee to make it 18-6 with 26 to play.
With frustration creeping into Canterbury's game, Hetherington produced a clothesline tackle on Holmes after being wrong-footed by the fullback, with the spectacular contact upending Holmes and sparking a melee.
Referee Ashley Klein – a late call-up for the game following Henry Perenara's late withdrawal due to health concerns – had little hesitation in making Hetherington the first player to be sent off this year, and first since Chad Townsend in round 17 last year.
The incident upped the intensity of the game several levels but did little for Canterbury's prospects in the short term, with Holmes – showing no ill-effects – making a clean break soon after to send Granville over under the posts.
Feldt takes to the skies
However a Katoa grubber from dummy half earned Flanagan a try against the run of play then Holmes made a mess of a Katoa long kick to hand the Dogs another attacking set with the 12-man line-up able to apply sustained pressure and remarkably create an overlap for Tuipulotu Katoa to cross out wide.
Suddenly it was the Cowboys that looked rattled when cool heads were required to ease them to a win with Canterbury making all the running and they looked like having a chance to level up when Will Hopoate claimed a try with four minutes to play.
The Cowboys failed to clean up a cross-field bomb with Hopoate on hand to clean up the scraps but involvement from an offside Nick Cotric forced a no-try ruling.
North Queensland took full advantage of back-to-back penalties to charge downfield with Mitch Dunn breaking through a ragged left edge defensive line to earn a 12-point win for the home side.
Sign up for a free NRL Account to access this video and other exclusive content.
Not sure? Learn more about an NRL Account.