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North Queensland Cowboys v Sydney Roosters: takeaways from NRL round three clash

17 March 2016 11:26 AM
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The Cowboys have bounced back from their shock loss to Parramatta last week with a crushing 40-0 win over the Sydney Roosters in Townsville.

The six-try drubbing on Thursday night was North Queensland's biggest ever winning margin over the Roosters, and marked only the third time since 1954 that the minor premiers from the previous season have lost their first three matches.

Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein got the Cowboys off to a flying start with tries in the first 10 minutes, before Lachlan Coote, Scott Bolton, Michael Morgan, Jason Taumalolo and Kyle Feldt all added to the Chooks' misery with four-pointers of their own.

The news for the Roosters got worse on the stroke of full-time with Ian Henderson suffering a suspected fractured leg, after Dale Copley appeared to suffer a torn pectoral muscle earlier in the game.

Following on from an error-strewn performance and another slow start in last week's loss to the Eels, North Queensland kept things simple in the early going against the Roosters. And it worked exceptionally well.

After a strong defensive set from the kick-off, the Cowboys big boppers rolled forward with brutal intent. Add a high-percentage Johnathan Thurston bomb to the mix and the Roosters were defending back-to-back sets of six on their own line. All that was required was a straightforward backline play involving a couple of decoy runners, and Linnett was cruising over on the left-hand side for the first try of the game.

The next set from the kick-off was a similar story. Soon enough, Winterstein was left with an easy run to plant down in the corner, and the Cows were 12-0 with less than 10 minutes gone, leaving the Roosters playing catch up.

Just as important as the much-lauded Thurston to the Cowboys' maiden premiership last season was their giant forward pack. Right from the start on Thursday night, those same behemoths made life hell for the Sydney defence. James Tamou, the immense Jason Taumalolo and Matt Scott had the side rolling forward right from the start of the game, and the likes of Ben Hannant and Gavin Cooper provided the energy to keep that momentum going throughout.

In wet and slippery conditions in Townsville, that kind of grunt is invaluable, and it mean JT was given so much space and time to work in he probably could have set up a few tries in his sleep.

Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima represent the future of the NRL. There is no doubt the Roosters' halves pairing possess a whole lot of individual talent and will be entertaining us for years to come. But seeing them matched up against the premier playmaker in rugby league showed they still have a few more years of development before they rank among the elites of the game.

Thurston was probably not at his best on Thursday night, but he didn't need to be. His ability to make the right decisions 90 per cent of the time ensures he is giving his teammates the best possible chance of performing at their best. Hastings and Nikorima may have the flair, but they would to well to learn from JT when to use it most effectively. The 270-game veteran knows when to kick, when to take the simple option, when to try something different, when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. That kind of near-flawless decision making only comes with a whole lot of experience.

Michael Morgan had a reasonably quiet game but the Cowboys were still able to cut their opponents to shreds thanks to their dynamic full-back's combinations with Thurston and the rest of the backline. Along with Taumalolo, Coote was the best player on the pitch, backing up his captain when needed and creating holes in the defence himself with some great runs and slick passing.

With David Klemmer escaping punishment for placing a hand on the referee last week, this area of the rules is destined to become a major talking point for the first time since Steve Roach's day. This week's villain/friendly fella is North Queensland's Ethan Lowe, who gave the ref a malicious/affable slap on the shoulder in the 14th minute of Thursday's clash. Should he escape scott free? Should he go to prison for the rest of his days? Let the debate rage on all week.


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