Three tries in three minutes has seen the North Queensland Cowboys steal a 28-26 win over the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at 4 Pines Park tonight.
The Sea Eagles were playing with plenty of punch and enthusiasm against the third placed Cowboys and led 24-12 with 14 minutes.
However, three tries from the 72nd to 75th minute saw the Cowboys get home by two points in a match the Sea Eagles should have closed out.
The Sea Eagles welcomed the return of champion half-back and captain Daly Cherry-Evans after missing last week's victory over the Wests Tigers with a quad injury sustained playing for Queensland in the opening Origin game.
North Queensland suffered a blow prior to kick-off when Queensland Origin forward Reuben Cotter did a hamstring in the warmup.
The Sea Eagles opened proceedings in the ninth minute when winger Christian Tuipulotu scored off a well placed kick to the corner from five-eighth Kieran Foran for a 4-0 lead.
Three minutes later, the Sea Eagles had another chance but second-rower Haumole Olakau’atu was deemed to knock the ball on in the lead up before centre Tolutau Koula was able to ground the ball.
In the space of five minutes, Koula had another try denied after Olakau’atu was stripped of the ball while attempting to ground it on the try line. H
Fullback Reuben Garrick scored Manly’s second try in the 24th minute following a stunning linebreak from centre Morgan Harper. The latter got the ball out of dummy half, fooled the defenders and made a break 15 metres out from his own line to find himself in open before sending Garrick on his way to the line for a 10-0 lead.
The Cowboys scored in the 33rd minute through centre Valentine Holmes after a tap back from forward Coen Hess before a chip over the top from halfback Chad Townsend. Holmes converted his own try to bring the score to 10-6.
Manly suffered a shaky start to the second half, similar to the Cowboys in the first, as Tuipulotu was forced to control the ball with his feet and nearly turning over possession in the process. Thankfully, the home side regained the ball.
The Cowboys scored their second try in the 44th minute through second-rower Jeremiah Nanai after the ball was fumbled in front of the posts. Holmes converted from in front to give his side a 12-10 lead.
After heavy pressure in North Queensland’s half, Manly struck again through Tuipulotu in the 48th minute for his second of the night. The young winger leaped up to latch onto Croker’s crossfield kick and wrestled away from the tackle to score his seventh try of the season to regain the lead for his side 14-12.
Croker stepped up in the 60th minute with a massive effort, kicking a phenomenal 40/20 to gain his side a fresh set in North Queensland’s half. The man of the moment scored a minute later, diving over next to the posts off the back of a Cherry-Evans' grubber kick for a 20-12 lead.
Three minutes after his last and Croker was over again, scoring two tries for the second time in his career with the first coming against the Canberra Raiders in Round 7, 2019.
The hooker placed a grubber kick through the line after some rushed passes on the last tackle. Second-rower Josh Schuster came running through and looked to grab the ball, only to leave it for Croker who steamed past to ground it under the posts. Garrick made the conversion to bring the score to 26-12.
The Cowboys scored in the 72nd minute through hooker Reece Robson, diving over next to the post after an offload from Nanai. Holmes converted for a 26-18 scoreline.
In a matter of minutes, North Queensland scored again through second-rower Connelly Lemuelu after a break down the left wing. Holmes successfully converted for a 26-24 scoreline.
The Cowboys scored their third try in three minutes thanks to a long range effort from Valentine Holmes.
Despite winning the ball back from kick-off thanks to a knock-on, the Sea Eagles unfortunately turned over possession off the scrum and North Queensland raced 80 metres downfield to score, taking a 28-26 lead.
Cherry-Evans then attempted a 40 metre field goal in the last minute but the ball drifted wide of the posts.