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QUICK WRAP: Cowboys vs Dolphins
7 April 2023 - North Queensland play Redcliffe in round 6 of the NRLM season in prime time Friday at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Was the game worth watching?
Yes. It’s an important game for both teams who are on the downward swing, looking to fix problems and find form. The match ends up being a see-sawing battle with a close finish.
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Did the Cowboys or Dolphins look like the better team?
For large stretches of the game, the Cowboys looked like the better team. North Queensland declined an opening blitzkrieg and were two points adrift when Taumalolo went off after 22 minutes.
Over the next 10 minutes of game time, the Cowboys lost total control of the match, Hess got binned, and the Dolphins would race out to a 20 point lead, scoring some embarrassingly easy tries. A 20 point lead is effectively insurmountable1
The Cowboys started the long road to comeback during the binning of Nikorima for a dangerous tackle before half time but it was all too slow. Even as the tide of the match shifted in the home team’s favour early in the second half and Taumalolo came back on, they left themselves too much work to do and it took a few errors and key plays by the Dolphins to wind the clock and secure the win.
Were the Cowboys really the better team?
Over the course of the game, the Dolphins were the better team. After 55 minutes, Redcliffe had 54% possession, were 200 metres clear of the Cowboys and had made 30 fewer tackles. The Cowboys managed to close the yardage deficit but still committed more than twice the errors of their opposition and late in the game, that’s what stalled their comeback bid.
Did you notice?
The Cowboys third try, scored by Coen Hess. This is so goddamn pretty, it’s astonishing that it made exactly one (1) appearance all night.
Townsend goes to Granville with Dearden lurking ominously out the back.
Gilbert bites on the decoy which creates the overlap.
Ese'ese bites on Granville and Bromwich covers Cotter.
Granville shovels the ball back to Dearden and now Dearden has both space and numbers. He could hit Hiku out the back but Hess has a yawning chasm in front of him.
Aitken comes in too late having been focussed on Hiku and Nikorima jams in on Dearden.
Try time. Blink and you'd miss it. When people say rugby league is a game of five tackles followed by a kick, those people are too slow to see this is how rugby is meant to be played.
The Cowboys otherwise score off a hard run from Holmes and two plain shifts to the right, primarily with Drinkwater passing long and fast enough to get the overlap and put Feldt in the corner past Aitken and Lee, E. It's considerably less inspiring stuff and won't generate many points against the good teams.
I bring up Taumalolo’s time on field when talking about the Cowboys a lot. This is because the Cowboys, like Tonga at the 2017 World Cup, start well with him on the field, fade away when he’s not and then charge in to the finish when he's back for his second stint.
The Cowboys’ defence is really bad and it’s really bad in two ways. A pack of consisting primarily of Ese’ese, Bromwich, Wallace, Nicholls and Stone should not be winning a battle of territory against any NRL calibre forwards and yet here we are. The only team the Cowboys have outgained this season is the Raiders and the Cowboys won that game by one point. The Raiders are 1-4 at time of writing.
North Queensland are also terrible inside the red zone. Tabuai-Fidow’s first try saw him run past a who’s who of the Cowboys: Granville, Neame, Drinkwater and Cotter. NQ also repeatedly had issues numbering up. While some of the Dolphins’ tries came 13-on-12, it was clear the Cowboys were nowhere near covering their opposite numbers. Isaako’s first try was a four on three off a scrum. The third Isaako try happens because Holmes (centre) tries to jam in quickly on Katoa (halfback) and isn’t fast enough. Then Elliott (winger) bats down the pass from Lee (centre) to Isaako (winger) and while the Cowboys expect a settler tackle to reset the attack, Isaako recovers the ball, runs to the line, steps Drinkwater (fullback) - who has finally turned up to make a business decision - and scores a try. The Dolphins went right all night. Where are the forwards - or even any warm bodies to throw in front - while this is all happening? If the Cowboys have the numbers, Holmes doesn’t try the jam in, which isolates Elliott to face down a two-on-one.
Putting aside his try where he simply carried the defensive line with him and his production in general, I don’t think Val Holmes had a great game. Kyle Feldt barely got involved, which led to considerably fewer dramatic performances on the pitch.
The Dolphins’ defence isn’t much better and they really lack the gas to put in a full 80 minute performance. Bennett knows the roster isn’t good enough to go the full 27 rounds with the NRL2 and seems to be picking his battles. Signature wins, like the first over the Roosters, the one against the Raiders in Redcliffe and this one over the Cowboys, practically count double in the battle of hearts and minds. No one will care when they get cleaned up in New South Wales if the Dolphins can win enough big games in Queensland. They've already won half the games I thought they would and it's only round 6.
The Dolphins final play was one of those masterstrokes where I yell out “no” and they make me look like the big stupid idiot I am.
Isaiya Katoa has a good arsenal of passes at his disposal.
“Deadset Jamayne Isaako wouldn't have got a game for Birdsville or Ceduna over the last few years, but you get Wayne in his ear and he morphs into an absolute killing machine” - Harry Ramage. The brightest minds at Red Hill said it couldn’t be done and here we are: Jamayne Isaako is good on the wing.
The game was a sell-out, so that’s nice for the coffers if nothing else.
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Unless you are the Titans, or the Sharks playing the Warriors, it's good for a 98% win probability at 35’.
Not unlike the 1988 Broncos.