COWBOYS ON THE RACK
Injuries now a major crisis
THE Cowboys’ injury concerns have just officially become a full- blown crisis.
The loss of co- captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott for the year was hard enough to take, but experienced stars Gavin Cooper ( calf) and Antonio Winterstein ( hamstring) failed to last the first half of last night’s 26- 8 home loss to Melbourne.
Stand- in captain Cooper limped off the field in the first minute while the hamstring issues which have hampered winger Winterstein’s campaign again got the best of him shortly after against the title favourites.
Just before the half hour Mark Bolton also went off clutching an elbow injury but returned in the second half.
The Cowboys could ill- afford to lose him given they are already without fellow props Scott, Patrick Kaufusi and Ben Spina for the year.
With so many stalwarts out the Cowboys’ experience has taken a massive hit and they will be forced to recall some youth for next week’s tough visit to a desperate Penrith looking to creep into the top eight.
Cowboys coach Paul Green praised the efforts of his battered side, calling their effort unbelievably courageous.
“We went with four forwards on the bench and guys were playing out of position all over the place and playing longer minutes.
“I was so proud of them tonight, I really was.
“I said to the boys after the game I’ve never been involved in a game where so many things have gone against us. “
The injuries ended any hope the Cowboys had of testing themselves against the benchmark after their intensity was found wanting in the second half of last week’s 22- 16 loss to the secondplaced Roosters.
Despite playing with just two men on the bench for more than 50 minutes the Cowboys showed admirable courage against the best team in the competition in front of a bumper 21,380 crowd.
The Cowboys will be sixth or seventh on the ladder at the end of the weekend, and must win at least one more g game in the toughestg home ome stretch in the league to secure a finals spot.
The injuries forced a dramatic reshuffle with young wrecking ball Coen Hess playing out of position at left centre marking Queensland Origin star Will Chambers, and the Storm peppered North Queensland’s left edge all game.
The premiership favourite’s class eventually ground a brave North Queensland down as the undermanned hosts tired down the back stretch.
The Storm were far from their clinical best and made some simple errors, particularly early, but the win further cemented their stranglehold on the minor premiership.
Storm fullback Billy Slater continued his superb form with three try assists, a line break and two line break assists, while flashy wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo- Carr both bagged doubles.
The Cowboys got off to an awful start when winger Kyle Feldt dropped a bomb, with Melbourne’s left winger Josh Addo- Carr scoring in the right corner off a set play from the scrum.
Despite their injury troubles the Cowboys took the lead 6- 4 after 14 minutes when inform hooker Jake Granville snuck over from dummy half.
A penalty goal extended the lead to 8- 4 midway through the first half.
With Hess playing out of position at centre, Chambers took advantage of the mismatch to score and give Melbourne their first lead 10- 8 after 28 minutes.
Just before the break the Storm extended the lead to 16- 8 when Slater’s kick found an unmarked Suliasi Vunivalu for his 39th try in his second NRL season, breaking the previous record.
The Cowboys bravely held out Melbourne for much of the second half before another Slater kick found Vunivalu for his second to seal the result with 15 minutes left.
THANKS BOYS: Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu after scoring one of his two tries against the NQ Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium.