Drinkwater propels Cowboys to gutsiest win of year

Jasper Bruce |

A try by Scott Drinkwater (centre) helped the Cowboys score a thrilling win over the Roosters.
A try by Scott Drinkwater (centre) helped the Cowboys score a thrilling win over the Roosters.

Scott Drinkwater has proven the difference as North Queensland ambushed the Sydney Roosters for an 18-16 win, their gutsiest of a hot-and-cold NRL season.

The NRL’s two most prolific attacking teams were left undermanned by State of Origin selections and consequently underwhelmed with the football for most of Sunday afternoon’s game at Allianz Stadium.

Written off before kick-off and without six of their Origin stars, the Cowboys fell behind 16-4 in the second half before clicking into gear, with Drinkwater hoisting them to a third consecutive win by scoring a try and kicking the winning penalty goal.

“That was one of his best games of the season tonight,” stand-in Cowboys captain Chad Townsend said of the Cowboys’ fullback.

“His leadership, his communication with the team, I thought he really took the game on tonight. He was huge for us.”

Cowboy Heilum Luki tackles Sitili Tupouniua.
Cowboy Heilum Luki was sin-binned for this tackle on Sitili Tupouniua. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

When star second-rower Heilum Luki went to the sin bin for up-turning Sitili Tupouniua early in the second half, it appeared a foregone conclusion that the premiership heavyweight Roosters would go on with the contest, after Sam Walker had starred to put them on top.

Instead, Luki’s moment of madness appeared to galvanise the visitors, who marched upfield only minutes later to begin closing the gap.

“We’ve practised those scenarios with guys in the bin since the pre-season, so it wasn’t foreign to us,” Townsend said.

Having sent Braidon Burns over for the Cowboys’ first try with a cut-out pass, Drinkwater scythed past Michael Jennings for a slick individual four-pointer down the Cowboys’ left edge.

When Kulikefu Finefeuiaki bulldozed past Jennings and Walker, Drinkwater had the chance to put the Cowboys in front, only to hook his relatively simple conversion attempt to the left of the upright. The scores were locked at 16-16.

The Roosters lost James Tedesco on game day, when he was called in to replace the injured Dylan Edwards in NSW camp, and they struggled for polish in the inspirational captain’s absence, especially after halftime.

“Field position just shifted completely,” coach Trent Robinson said of the second half.

“They kicked us deep into our own 10-metre line constantly. The amount of bombs that Dom (Young) and Tups (Daniel Tupou) had to take, then they stayed disciplined on that set until they eked out a couple of tries there. It was a credit to their consistency.”

Dominic Young.
Dominic Young had a day to forget for the Roosters. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Tedesco’s replacement Joey Manu switched from the centres to fullback at the 11th hour but could not replicate the attacking spark that has typified his previous spells deputising at the back.

“Joey didn’t have his best night tonight,” Robinson said.

Young had a night to forget on the right wing. 

The star recruit produced an almighty brain-snap to offload the ball coming out of trouble with the scores tied late, with Manu bundled into touch as he attempted to clean up the scraps.

While the Cowboys were attacking his side’s line, Junior Pauga rushed out of defence and gave away an offside penalty that allowed Drinkwater to seal the game with a goal. He did not miss this time.

Luki is likely to face scrutiny from the match review committee, with Roosters veteran Jared Waerea-Hargreaves a chance to join him on the charge sheet.

The prop went on report in the first half for putting a high shot on Cowboys lock Thomas Mikaele,  and could spend time on the sidelines regardless of any charge. The 35-year-old reported tightness in his right hamstring in the first half and did not return from his first stint. 

“I got the call that he wasn’t right to go,” Robinson said.