A return to form by Scott Drinkwater trumped the return of Kalyn Ponga as the Cowboys hung on to beat Newcastle 18-16 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday night.
In his third game back after a three-game suspension, Drinkwater ran for 216 metres and had two try assists as the Cowboys put a dampener on Ponga's 100th NRL game and his first since Round 2 due to concussion.
The Cowboys struck the first blow when Drinkwater exploded into space and found Reece Robson backing up inside for the game's opening try.
No sooner had the Cowboys fans taken their seats again after the try than Tom Dearden spilled the kick-off and the Knights made them pay when some crisp passing put Greg Marzhew over in the corner for his sixth try of the season.
In the 18th minute Knights fullback Lachlan Miller returned the favour with a dropped ball but the Cowboys wasted the opportunity when Reuben Cotter put it down on the third tackle.
Robson gets the first
A spectacular play by the Knights in the 22nd minute saw Dominic Young soar through the air to catch a Jackson Hastings bomb but come down just short of the line before losing the ball on the ground.
The Cowboys regained the lead in the 26th minute when Kyle Feldt came up with a spectacular diving finish after taking the final pass from Drinkwater.
The home side should have gone further ahead six minutes later when Robson grubbered into the in-goal and Drinkwater made a mess of the put-down with no defenders around him.
A penalty against Tyson Frizell for a high tackle handed Val Holmes the chance to slot a penalty goal but he missed and the home side led by six at the break.
Marzhew leaves them in his wake
The sin binning of Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi early in the second half gave the Knights a one-man advantage and they cashed in immediately when Ponga delivered the final pass for Young to score.
When Marzhew tried to push a pass just a metre from his own line the Knights found themselves under pressure but a knock on by Drinkwater let them off the hook.
A barnstorming run by Frizell then put the Knights on the attack and Hastings drifted across field and turned Lachlan Fitzgibbon underneath for a clear run to the line. Miller converted to give Newcastle a 16-12 lead.
The Cowboys struck back in the 65th minute when Holmes found space and turned the ball back inside for Dearden to score and make it 16-16. Holmes converted to North Queensland up 18-16.
Jeremiah Nanai lunged for the line shortly after but dropped the ball just short and the Knights survived that raid and eventually worked their way back up field where they launched a desperate final raid but the Cowboys hung on for their first win since Round 4.
Match: Cowboys v Knights
Round 8 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
- Maroons star Reuben Cotter entered the game after 15 minutes for the Cowboys and came up with 189 run metres and 46 tackles in 66 minutes of game time.
- Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga came from the bench for the first time in his 100-game NRL career. He was introduced into the game in the 27th minute and played the remaining 53 minutes, finishing with seven runs for 61 metres, four tackle breaks, two line break assists and a try assist.
- Both sides came up with six errors each in a sloppy first half.
- Cowboys back-rower Jeremiah Nanai left the field in the 39th minute for a HIA which he passed. He returned to the field in the 54th minute.
Dearden and Holmes combine
- Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater had 27 runs for 216 metres and also came up with two try assists and six tackle breaks.
- Knights centres Bradman Best and Dane Gagai combined for 352 metres from 35 runs.
- Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi was sent to the sin bin in the 47th minute for a late tackle on Dane Gagai.
- The Knights have not won in Townsville since round 2, 2015.
- Knights centre Dane Gagai came up with 14 tackle breaks for the game.
- Cowboys centre Val Holmes was huge for the home side with 222 running metres and five tackle breaks.
Play of the Game
The scorer of the most famous try in Cowboys history and 117 others in his 11-year career, Kyle Feldt came up with a beauty in the 26th minute with an acrobatic dive into the corner to give his team the lead. The try was set up by a beautiful cut-out pass from fullback Scott Drinkwater and finished off by Feldt in trademark fashion.
Feldt puts it down right in the corner
What They Said
"We played with 12 men again [for 10 minutes] and we only used 15 players so it was a really brave performance to grind out a gritty win. It wasn't always pretty but the effort and sacrifice for each other is still there and we got away with a much-needed win. You could see in those last two or three minutes they threw a lot at us with [Lachie] Miller and Kalyn [Ponga] and a couple of offloads, and we went from side to side and there was a couple of offloads and we came up with the scraps." - Cowboys coach Todd Payten
Cowboys: Round 8
"There's way too many errors in our game at the moment. It's good getting pats on the back for effort and they were still fighting hard at the end of the game but it can't be enough, we have to want more. We have to execute better, I thought we were really sloppy with the ball in the first half, we didn't mount any pressure. We have to hold each other to a higher standard." - Knights coach Adam O'Brien
Knights: Round 8
The Cowboys face a road trip to Sydney for a Thursday night clash with the Cronulla Sharks. The Knights square off against the Eels on Friday night at CommBank Stadium before having a bye in Round 10.