The Sydney Roosters were the strong favourites to overcome the challenge of the North Queensland Cowboys as the two sides met at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
Lachlan Lam, Matt Ikuvalu and Englishman Ryan Hall were back for the Roosters in place of Boyd Cordner, Daniel Tupou and late withdrawal Brett Morris as Trent Robinson was forced into changes. Paul Green also made changes for the Cowboys bringing in Connelly Lemuelu, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Tom Gilbert in place of O’Neill, Cotter and Opacic.
A Roosters win would lift them to third but the Cowboys needed a big win to change their league position.
The Cowboys were out of the blocks like no-one had told them that they were the underdogs.
It was a nightmare return for Ryan Hall as he knocked-on a high kick as he jumped to collect but his blushes were saved by the video referee who ruled out the resulting try for offside.
But it took twenty-three minutes for the Cowboys to get their first try when Reece Robson went with a scoot from acting half-back to cover five metres and stretch for the line to score by the left upright. Kyle Feldt added the simple conversion and it was no more than North Queensland deserved as the Rooster were somewhat out of sorts.
On twenty-nine Feldt hit the left upright from just ten metres out, the Cowboys missing the opportunity for a little breathing space. The Roosters turned the game on its head and went straight down the other end of the field and a delightful pass from James Tedescu found Matt Ikuvalu with enough space to dive over in the corner for a four-pointer. Kyle Flanagan converted brilliantly from the right touchline to level the scores at 6-6.
The Roosters snatched the lead on thirty-six with SioSiua Taukeiaho taking the pass twenty metres out and swatting aside the tacklers to use his strength to score a crucial try. Flanagan added the conversion for 12-6, somewhat against the run of play. The Roosters has absorbed the pressure and hit the Cowboys with a double whammy.
Two minutes after the restart and the Roosters extended their lead with a spectacular effort from Ikuvalu as he scored in the corner while fully airborne and defying the laws of gravity. This time Flanagan was unable to add the conversion from wide, the Roosters with a 16-6 lead.
Two minutes later Ikuvalu went over again with a carbon copy try as he managed to avoid stepping in touch and scored again in the corner. A hat-trick for the late call-up had given the Roosters a 20-6 lead, Flanagan again unable to add the conversion.
James Tedesco was provider again and on fifty when he took a flick pass to coast through the Cowboys defence and find Luke Keary to score under the sticks. This time Flanagan banged his kick between the uprights, the Roosters were a different side from the one which took the field in the first half.
Two minutes more had passed before the Roosters went in again with Keary taking a Lindsay Collins pass to run twenty metres and again score under the sticks to give Flanagan another simple goal for 32-6. It was a demolition.
The Cowboys defence had become almost non-existent as Ikavalu got his fourth of the game, holding off Ben Hampton as he took a Flanagan pass and went in from ten metres out. Flanagan drilled his touchline conversion between the uprights for 38-6, the Cowboys now praying for the final hooter.
Ikavalu’s fifth came on sixty-five when he took a high kick from Keary in the Cowboys try zone and dropped to the ground. Flanagan was unable to add the conversion, it was no solace for a devastated North Queensland.
A seventy-third minute Coen Hess try, busting the Roosters line and grounding under two tacklers, was of no consolation. Feldt pushed his kick wide of the far post, North Queensland into double figures but it was an awful night.
Three minutes from the end Reece Robson got his second of the game, under the sticks with another scoot from acting half back. This time Feldt kicked the goal for a final score of 16-42.
Although the scoreline at half time was very close, the Roosters put their feet down at the start of the second half and demolished the Cowboys with a devastating thirty minutes. Ikuvalu scored more tries in this game than he had in his career so far and despite a couple of late Cowboys tries to tarnish a perfect forty from the Roosters, North Queensland were comprehensively beaten.
North Queensland Cowboys: Tabuai-Fidow, Feldt (2G), Lemuelu, Marsters, Holmes, Drinkwater, Clifford, McGuire, Robson (2T), Molo, Hess (T), Wright, Taumalolo. Subs: Gilbert, Hampton, Hola, Cooper.
Sydney Roosters: Tedesco, Hall, Morris J, Manu, Ikuvalu (5T), Keary (2T), Flanagan (5G), Waerea-Hargreaves, Friend, Taukeiaho (T), Crichton, Aubusson, Butcher. Subs: Lam, Tupouniua, Faamausili, Collins.
Referee: Adam Gee.
Ground: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville.