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Cowboys lose Luki to ACL, but maintain winning ways over Dragons

North Queensland’s march on the top four of the NRL has continued with a comfortable 31-12 victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons.

North Queensland were shorn of Origin stars Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai – and lost gun backrower Heilum Luki to an ACL injury – but had more than enough firepower to get by a Dragons side that is levels below the Cowboys.

Scott Drinkwater scored one and made one from the back, Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend controlled the middle as they have all year and Jason Taumalolo was at his imperious best, pushing 200m with the ball, nearly 100 of which were post-contact.

Ben Hunt was the only Dragon to feature on Wednesday and backed up tonight, but his supporting cast often failed him. Aside from Moses Suli and debutant Jonathan Reuben on the left edge, few threatened with the ball.

The Dragons had the first decent position of the game, but it was the Cowboys that raced out of the blocks.

They forced three repeat sets in good ball before three of their big hitters combined for the opening try: Dearden slipped Coen Hess through on a beautifully-angled line, before the forward found Drinkwater to touch down.

The fullback then turned provider, winding a bounce-perfect kick through for Peta Hiku. There was more than a whiff off offside, but the bunker saw no issue and allowed it to stand.

The scoreline was outpacing the clock and might have accelerated further: Taumalolo created a break and got the ball to Dearden, only for the halfback to be dragged down.

St George Illawarra needed to spark up. Blake Lawrie went about it the wrong way, laying one late on Dearden and getting himself put on report.

Reuben, on debut on the wing for the Dragons at age 29, took an intercept and raced away, but was stopped by a superb Cowboys scramble before Cody Ramsey got over the line, but was called back for an obstruction.

It was to become a theme. Where St George might have scored twice, the Cowboys went straight down main street and got themselves another. Again, Taumalolo was the architect, slipping Griffin Neame through the middle with soft hands, from whence he put Reece Robson under the sticks.

St George Illawarra eventually for their rewards. Suli, always the most likely looking, was the man to get it. It had a spot of luck – he lost the ball and regathered before touching down – but it was hard to say that the centre, at the very least, didn’t deserve something for his first half.

The second half performance was less impressive. Murray Taulagi was gifted a try by a Zac Lomax error, and for the next twenty minutes, it seemed as if the Cowboys seemed content to treat the game as a defensive exercise.

They were not overly challenged by the Dragons’ attack, though again, Reuben made another superb break, until eventually relenting to a late Jayden Su’A score.

There was time for Connolly Lemuelu to add gloss to the scoreline – along with a previous field goal from Townsend – and to confirm another stroll of a victory up in Townsville.

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