North Queensland’s ploy to keep Newcastle star Kalyn Ponga out of action has helped the Cowboys to a 32-20 upset win over the Knights in Townsville.
Wary of the danger posed by Ponga in open space, the Cowboys kicked for touch at every opportunity, denying the Knights star the room to counter attack.
And despite a late Newcastle fightback, the Cowboys held on for a 12-point victory, ending a three match losing streak.
“The gameplan worked today. It was good to keep KP [Kalyn Ponga] quiet,” Cowboys halfback Jake Clifford told Fox Sports.
“We had a gameplan to just kick it out and get him as uninvolved as possible.”
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It was a game plan that didn’t go unnoticed in the commentary box.
“He (Ponga) has just been suffocated all afternoon,” Dan Ginnane said on Fox Sports, adding the 26-0 halftime scoreline was an “annihilation.”
The Cowboys’ tactic of kicking for touch restricted Ponga to just 73 running metres – far below his average of 147 for the season.
The loss should serve as a wake-up call for Newcastle, who have now been beaten in two of their last three matches.
A day after coach Adam O’Brien warned his team were not doing as well as they thought, the Knights looked lethargic and confused against a rampaging Cowboys outfit devoid of some big stars.
“I’ve asked the group whether we came here with the wrong mindset based on our ladder position and based on our results, and that’s not the team we need to be,” O’Brien said.
“We need to be concerned with our own performances.”
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With Michael Morgan and Valentine Holmes sidelined, experienced forwards Jason Taumalolo and Josh McGuire were ruthless up front against the favoured Knights’ pack in Townsville.
Taumalolo in particular was immense, celebrating his 100th NRL win with 264 metres from 24 runs, 96 post-contact metres and 27 tackles.
A week earlier, the Cowboys were on the wrong end of a 34-0 first-half thumping by the Wests Tigers but returned the favour for the Knights to take a 26-0 lead into the sheds.
And despite three tries in 16 minutes to begin the second half and a late four-pointer to Gehamat Shibasaki, the Knights could not recover from their horror start.
They mounted somewhat of a comeback in the second half, when in the final minute, Ponga was denied the chance to score by Scott Drinkwater, but a penalty try was not awarded.
Drinkwater was sent to the sin-bin for the professional foul, but he went smiling as the Cowboys celebrated their first win in a month.
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The Knights’ pack were punished through the middle as the Cowboys erupted with energy which was unmatched by the visitors at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
The Knights were heavily favoured heading into the match after just one loss for the season, and a win would have cemented their best season start since 2013 – the last time they made the finals.
The Cowboys had leaked 99 points to Cronulla, the Warriors and Tigers to put coach Paul Green under immense pressure.
The Cowboys take on Parramatta on Friday at Bankwest Stadium, while the Knights face old foes Manly looking to bounce back.
– With AAP.