The Newcastle Knights were beaten 46-16 by reigning premiers the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday evening.
With several late changes - including a halves pairing shift for the fourth straight week - the Knights fought hard for the duration of the match but were simply overrun by a classy Cowboys side brimming with experience.
The red and started on the front foot with returning Origin star Dane Gagai almost scoring from a Jack Cogger kick in the second minute.
He wasn’t quite fast enough though, and four minutes later came up with an error from a kick that allowed the Cowboys a repeat set. The Knights held up admirably in defence, but another handling error when coming out from their own end in the tenth minute made it easy for Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein to score in the corner.
Twenty minutes in the Knights looked as though they were in trouble when they were still pinned on their own line four tackles in, until Nathan Ross made a break out of nowhere and ran 70 metres to give Cory Denniss a try in the left corner.
With the score at 6-6 it didn’t take the Cowboys long to strike again, fill-in five-eighth Ray Thompson ducking through the defensive line to score. Thurston converted to make the score 12-6, and five minutes later the home side piled on more points as back rower Gavin Cooper made a run down the short side from dummy-half to get over the line.
Five minutes before half time it was try number four for the home side and try number two for Thompson, as he collected a short ball on the left side to get over.
Early in the second half the Cowboys were over again when John Asiata put hooker Jason Granville through a hole. Thurston converted to make the score 30-6, and then eight minutes later winger Kyle Feldt dived over on the right.
From the following kick-off Lachlan Coote dropped the ball cold to give the Knights a rare chance in attack, and while Pauli Pauli came close on the left flank, in the end the Cowboys weathered the storm.
With twenty minutes to play the Cowboys made it six tries, this time via interchange hooker Rory Kostjaysn.
The Knights weren’t lying down though, and seven minutes later Sione Mata’utia put Gagai through a hole, who then passed the pill on for Jake Mamo to make the score 42-10.
The Cowboys weren’t done just yet though, and with six minutes to play Feldt bagged his second try on the right side.
The final four-pointer went to the Knights though, Lachlan Fitzgibbon scoring his first NRL try off a Hodkinson kick to make the score 46-14.
Cowboys 46 (T: Winterstein, Thompson 2, Cooper, Granville, Feldt 2, Kostjasyn; G: Thurston 7/8)
Knights 16 (T: Denniss, Mamo, Fitzgibbon; G: Hodkinson 2/3)