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'We're going to fight for': Cowboys on top-two path after big win

By AAP
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Cowboys celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the round two NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Canberra Raiders at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on March 19, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

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North Queensland have put themselves in the box seat for their first NRL home final in six years after consolidating second spot with a 34-8 win over St George Illawarra.

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In a crucial result for each team’s season, the Cowboys barely looked threatened at Kogarah before running away with the match late in the second half.

With five rounds to play, the Dragons’ season looks shot while North Queensland are now all but guaranteed to be finals-bound for the first time since the Cowboys’ stunning run to the 2017 GF from eighth spot.

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But much more beckons.

A home game in the first week of the finals remains firmly in the Cowboys’ control, with the win keeping them two points clear of the chasing Cronulla with a far superior for-and-against differential.

A top-two finish would also guarantee a second home final beyond the opening week, meaning North Queensland can dare to dream of playing all of September in Townsville until the grand final.

“We have already had a conversation about it as a group,” coach Todd Payten said.

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“We know how important it is for us to finish as high up as possible.

“Playing in front of our home fans for a final is a small advantage and one we’re going to fight for.”

Among the wooden-spoon favourites at the start of the season, the Cowboys are firming as genuine title contenders.

And for all the talk of their electrifying back five and improved spine, it has been their forwards who have represented the biggest change in the attack.

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Jeremiah Nanai scored two tries and Griffin Neame also crossed in Sunday’s win, while Jason Taumalolo had an influential second half, tempered only by being put on report for a shoulder charge.

The Cowboys’ first try was also from the work of Coen Hess, who earned a fast play-the-ball before Scott Drinkwater put Kyle Feldt over on the next play.

Moments later it was Nanai who produced the decisive play, bursting through the Dragons’ defence before sending Drinkwater over under the posts.

Taumalolo then twice turned provider after North Queensland led 10-8 at the break, putting Neame through the middle of two defenders to score.

Nanai’s first four-pointer was also off the back of some Taumalolo brilliance, as the Cowboys star burst down field after a Ben Hunt error and the second-rower scored from the next play.

Nanai scored another from a Chad Townsend pass, taking the edge forward’s try tally for the year to 16.

“What I like about our team is we have as many points of attack as possible,” Payten said.

“Whether it is No.9, No.7, No.6, No.1, some middle forwards who can move the ball and offload.

“Our back five are skilful and fast and our back-rowers are dynamic. When we get it right we are hard to defend.”

North Queensland’s only concern was a hamstring injury to Kyle Feldt, forcing the winger from the field in the second half.

In comparison, the Dragons failed to make the most of their first-half opportunities before completing at at 64 per cent after the break.

Jack de Belin scored their only try from a kick, but the Dragons are now two points out of the top eight with a horror for-and-against.

“We just didn’t get enough out of our first half,” Griffin said.

“And in the last 15 minutes we weren’t good enough defensively.”

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