The Vodafone Warriors made an astonishing start with three tries in the opening 12 minutes but the Cowboys responded outstandingly to take total control of tonight's 24th-round NRL clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
After conceding a 0-16 start, they stormed back with nine unanswered tries to win 50-16, a record victory over the Vodafone Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium.
Johnathan Thurston had the ball almost literally on a string as he ran proceedings following the Vodafone Warriors. explosive start.
The first collision of the match left prop Jacob Lillyman on his haunches and taken off the field for a suspected broken cheekbone which brought Charlie Gubb off the bench immediately. Lillyman couldn't return and the home side was reduced to three players on the interchange from the outset.
Despite the setback the Vodafone Warriors put together a composed passage of play early on, Tuimoala Lolohea rolling in a grubber which Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote just got back into play.
From the next set in possession the Vodafone Warriors went at the Cowboys with plenty of intent, the ball found its way to Lolohea and he put on some lightning footwork, wrong-footed Johnthan Thurston and scorched in for a stunning try. His conversion was on target and it was 6-0 after six minutes.
Two minutes later it was 10-0 when the Vodafone Warriors broke the Cowboys up the middle and then went left where debutant Mason Lino pushed through a delightful grubber for left wing Ken Maumalo to race onto for his first NRL try.
They weren't done with.
In the 11th minute Lolohea terrorised the Cowboys again, breaking clear on the visitors' 40 and surging away from Thurston (again). He had Dominique Peyroux and Jonathan Wright to his right but rather than connect with them he intuitively grubbered ahead. The execution couldn't have been better, the departing Peyroux roaring through to collect and score his first NRL try of the season in his last home appearance for the club. Lolohea nailed the conversion and the score-line sensationally read 16-0 after 12 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors were equally inspired without the ball. When James Tamou charged at the line carrying the ball back, Simon Mannering, Gubb and Albert Vete pounded him. Tamou couldn't get up and the game was stopped for several minutes before he was taken off in the medicab.
It proved to be a turning point as the unperturbed Cowboys set about biting back.
They were soon on point with slick ball work to the right creating space for replacement wing Kyle Feldt to squeeze in brilliantly in the corner. Thurston, as is his wont, steered the conversion through the posts superbly to make it 16-6 after 18 minutes.
Four minutes later the incomparable Thurston put his stamp on the game by doing it all himself and converting to leave the score-line reading 16-12.
As expected the Cowboys kept aiming at their right side and they kept finding joy.
With Thurston orchestrating the play expertly, they engineered two more tries in the last five minutes of the first half, Feldt with his second and then centre Justin O'Neill with his first of the night. Thurston was just as sharp with his kicking, knocking over both conversions as North Queensland converted a 0-16 deficit into a 24-16 lead at the break.
Needing to settle in the opening phase of the second half the Vodafone Warriors made the right noises.
Feeding off back-to-back penalties they went to their left on a rehearsed play, the ball out the back putting Sam Tomkins over. Referee Matt Cecchin ruled no try in the belief Tomkins had benefited from an obstruction. So it proved. The try was ruled out and the pain was exacerbated when the Cowboys received a penalty coming out of their end.
They won another repeat set inside the Vodafone Warriors' 20 and then worked a try off a kick for interchange forward Ben Spina on the left. For once Thurston was off target, leaving the Cowboys 28-16 ahead.
However, the Cowboys then made it 34 unanswered points when Thurston put debutant Coen Hess in for a try on the left side in the 56th minute, Thurston providing the extras for a 34-16 lead.
The points kept flowing as North Queensland went back to its productive right edge, precision football setting up Feldt for his hat-trick to blow the lead out to 38-16 with 20 minutes still to play. A night which had started so remarkably for the Vodafone Warriors had been transformed into a challenge by the resurgent Thurston-inspired Cowboys.
Six minutes from time North Queensland went past 40 for the night with left centre Kane Linnett running back against the grain to score.
The visitors weren't finished as they made it 50 points without response with their ninth try of the night, a second for O'Neill, to complete what was easily North Queensland's biggest win at Mount Smart Stadium.
The Cowboys' dominance of the last 60 minutes was evident not least on the scoreboard but also in the statistics which showed them completing a staggering 38 out of 42 sets and finishing gaining 1843 metres. In contrast the Vodafone Warriors had only 29 sets in total and completed just 19 while making 1000 metres; the possession imbalance translated into them making 382 tackles while the Cowboys were required to make just 241. Carrying most of defensive workload was captain Simon Mannering who made 64 tackles and missed only one while Nathan Friend made 55.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 16 (Tuimoala Lolohea, Ken Maumalo, Dominique Peyroux tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 2 conversions).
North Queensland Cowboys 50 (Kyle Feldt 3, Justin O'Neill 2, Johnathan Thurston, Ben Spina, Coen Hess, Kane Linnett tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 conversions).
Halftime: 24-16 Cowboys.
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Adam Devcich.
Vodafone Warriors | Sam Tomkins; Ken Maumalo, Dominique Peyroux, Solomone Kata, Jonathan Wright; Mason Lino, Tuimoala Lolohea; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Albert Vete; Sione Lousi, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Konrad Hurrell, Bodene Thompson, Sam Lisone, Charlie Gubb.