Cowboys grind out ugly win over Knights
IT was far from pretty against the competition's bottom team, but the Cowboys have steadied the ship somewhat after grinding out a tradesman-like 24-12 home win over Newcastle on Saturday night.
And to rub more salt into the wound for the unlucky Knights, their future fullback Kalyn Ponga scored a double for the Cowboys to help them break a two-game losing streak.
Without key playmakers Johnathan Thurston, Jake Granville and Lachlan Coote, Ponga gave a glimpse to Knights fans what to expect from next year with a man of the match display.
Although the Knights had won just one of their previous 26 matches, they are a vastly improved outfit this year and have been unlucky not to earn more victories.
They led 12-10 at halftime, but inexperienced errors were pivotal late.
The wins ensures the Cowboys will retain their top eight spot with a 5-3 record, but they will be far from happy with how they've begun the season.
The first three tries Newcastle conceded were extremely soft as the Cowboys exposed their right edge's on-line defence down the blindside.
Cowboys forwards Scott Bolton, Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo led the way, while centre Kane Linnett enjoyed a return to form.
The Knights pulled a selection shock when back rower Sione Mata'utia was chosen at halfback and given the captaincy in place of the dropped Trent Hodkinson.
Former NSW Origin star Hodkinson has struggled this year with a niggling knee injury, but his composure would have been handy for the Knights, who made 92 more tackles than the hosts.
In the third minute the Cowboys squandered a chance to get off to a great start when Coen Hess spilt a pass from Justin O'Neill with the line wide open after the Origin centre made a break.
Five minutes later the Cowboys finally capitalised on their early territorial advantage when Gavin Cooper scored a soft try out of dummy half close to the line.
However the match turned when North Queensland opted to take a penalty goal after 15 minutes to extend the lead to 6-0, passing up a chance to keep the pressure on the exhausted Knights.
The Knights made them pay when winger Nathan Ross scored his sixth try of the year in the 17th minute to level scores.
Soon after Newcastle hit the front when fullback Brendan Elliot ran the length of the field after bursting onto a grubber kick from Cooper.
Five minutes before halftime the Knights were again made to pay for another costly lapse on their own line when their future fullback Kalyn Ponga scored down the blindside on the last tackle.
Early in the second half the Cowboys regained the lead thanks some more porous Knights on-line defence when Kane Linnett barged over off a simple dummy half pass.
In the 63rd minute Ponga scored his second off some great lead-up work from Ethan Lowe and John Asiata, despite appearing to carry a leg injury for most of the second half.
Knights back-rower Mitch Barnett was taken off with a right ankle injury early in the second half.