Taumalolo dominates as Cowboys down scrappy Bulldogs
NO fans, no worries for the North Queensland Cowboys.
In a historic clash in front of 83,500 empty seats - and just 241 people inside at ANZ Stadium - a rampaging Jason Taumalolo ran riot to steer the Cowboys to a 24 to 16 win over the Bulldogs.
With a week of headlines filled with the COVID-19 pandemic and whether the NRL will continue being played beyond Round 2, last night's match was a welcomed return to normality.
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And the Cowboys returned to their winning ways in an ambush down in Sydney.
It was a preparation like no other for the North Queensland club, who flew into town on a chartered jet, four hours before kick off and flew out just hours after the fulltime siren to arrive back in Townsville at 2am.
North Queensland coach Paul Green said it had been a "long day" for the players but was proud of their performance.
"Coming off a disappointing loss last week I thought we bounced back tonight," Green said.
"It was very different. There's certainly different times at the moment.
"I was really worried about them (the players) being flat. It's been a long day. More because we're not used to this.
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"We've never had a prep like this before a game.
"Sometimes you don't want to get to the ground too early because guys can switch on too early and waste energy there."
Green also praised Taumalolo for his efforts last night.
"We've got guys in the team who can do things like that so it's good when they do that," he said.
"For Jase tonight, it was about how he ran. He certainly put his hand up which was pleasing.
"Maybe I'm used to seeing it but that's just what he does."
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Man-mountain Jason Taumalolo is simply unstoppable and seems to be getting better with age. Not only is he impossible to tackle but the 117kg prop has started to add a short pass into his game. Just three minutes out from halftime, Taumalolo threw a deceptively cool short pass to Francis Molo, who then offloaded back to the big man to barnstorm his way to the tryline. Throw in 304 running metres, it showed North Queensland's success comes when Taumalolo is at his best.
2.The new era playing in front of empty stadiums began last night and it was as strange for fans as it was for the players. But if there was any concern about how the players would react to having no fans, it didn't show. Last night's game was as entertaining as a regular NRL game. The tries weren't as thrilling without the cheer of the crowd but the silence allowed fans an ear into what's discussed among the players on ground. Having rugby league back on TV was a welcomed escape from the madness of society amid the coronavirus pandemic and many fans will be pleased if the NRL can continue beyond this weekend.
3.The Cowboys No.1 man Valentine Holmes is finding his groove again. There was always going to be some breathing room for Holmes' return to rugby league and last night he showed glimpses of his potential. A try assist plus two flying takes off a high ball will have North Queensland fans salivating at the prospect Holmes can only get better.
4.He's been up at North Queensland for less than 12 months but Scott Drinkwater has already become the club's go-to attacking man. A quick change of pace off a scrum play saw the 22-year-old split the Bulldogs defence to give the Cowboys the lead early in the game. He still has room for improvement though, with a few errors in his game, but Drinkwater seems to be the perfect pairing for halfback Michael Morgan.
5.The Hess Express is back. He was in everything last night and produced the play of the game. No, it wasn't his 12th minute four-pointer to get the Cowboys on the board. It came in the 54th minute when the 114kg backrower sprinted 50m to chase a Michael Morgan kick to tackle the Bulldogs fullback out of bounds. The momentum shift eventually gave North Queensland a valuable 12-point buffer at a crucial part of the game.
Originally published as Taumalolo dominates as Cowboys down scrappy Bulldogs