DON’T blame the absence of Johnathan Thurston. It is doubtful even his presence, as talismanic as it is, could have saved the bumbling, hot-and-cold Cowboys last night.
In one of the most bizarre games of the season, the Cowboys almost snatched a remarkable victory, defying the loss of Thurston to push the Dragons to the wire in a 28-22 thriller at WIN Stadium.
Watching from his living room, Thurston, nursing a calf injury, would have fallen off his couch as the Cowboys self-destructed to trail 28-4 at halftime.
But just as the Cowboys were facing a 50-point slaughter, the visitors produced a stunning second-half resurrection, posting three tries in nine minutes to narrow the deficit to six points.
In the end, the Dragons held their nerve to maintain their place atop the NRL ladder, leaving the Cowboys to rue a shocking first-half in which their right-edge defence was torn apart.
Perhaps Thurston would have been the difference. Perhaps his champion qualities would have prevailed in clutch moments, such as the 78th minute when Kalyn Ponga failed to put Gideon Gela-Mosby away for a try that could have levelled scores.
But in reality, the bigger issue was not an over-reliance on Thurston but the Cowboys’ inability to execute fundamentals as the Red V charged to a 24-point halftime lead.
Cowboys coach Paul Green would have watched on in dismay as his right-edge defence was shredded, Justin O’Neill and Kyle Feldt leaking four first half tries to ignite the Dragons.
Such is the size of North Queensland’s pack, they rarely lose the midfield battle. This time, they were towelled up around the rucks.
Not even the 117kg presence of Jason Taumalolo mattered as Dragons hulks Russell Packer, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell and Jack de Belin ganged up to belt the Cowboys.
The Cowboys had so many problem areas last night that it is doubtful a fit Thurston could have halted the Red V tidal wave.
Their first-half completion rate was a woeful 41 per cent. Taumalolo, Feldt and Ponga all dropped the ball cold. And while their forwards were emphatically outmuscled, the Cowboys’ right-edge defence was an abject disaster as they leaked four tries in the space of 17 minutes.
This time last year, winger Feldt was on the cusp of an Origin debut but his hands were so bad last night he would have struggled to catch a cold in the chilly Wollongong air.
His centre partner O’Neill actually clinched a maiden Maroons jumper, but his Origin status is under threat after he was carved up by a rampant Dragons attack.
Seemingly gone, the Cowboys sensationally came alive after the break. Three tries in nine minutes gave the visitors hope but, without Thurston, too much damage had been done.
Originally published as Cowboys’ problems bigger than no JT
SOURCE: newsnow sport