North Queensland made it 12 wins on end to leave the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ finals hopes in the balance after winning Saturday night’s 24th-round NYC clash 24-10 at Mount Smart Stadium.
The result leaves the Vodafone Junior Warriors on 25 points but down to eighth spot after Wests Tigers – their opponents next Sunday – climbed above them with victory over Cronulla earlier on Saturday.
Sitting two points behind in ninth is Melbourne with Canterbury-Bankstown and Newcastle 10th and 11th on 22 points.
North Queensland always promised to be a major hurdle given its performances throughout the season but the early signs hinted the Vodafone Junior Warriors would give the visitors a real challenge.
While the Cowboys scored first the home side was quickly on level terms at 4-4 after a try by replacement centre Levi McBirney.
North Queensland broke the deadlock with tries in the 30th and 32nd minutes to go to the break 14-4 ahead.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors made the worst possible start to the second half, though, when an error from the restart led to the Cowboys scoring their third try in the space of nine minutes either side of halftime.
At 4-18 down the Vodafone Junior Warriors needed to be the next to score – and they were when halfback Erin Clark took on the line and scored a superb individual try. With Kauri Aupouri’s conversion the lead was down to eight points at 10-18 with more than 30 minutes to play but outstanding Cowboys fullback Kalyn Ponga ultimately put the game out of reach for the locals with a superb 56th-minute try.
Despite having time on their side the Vodafone Junior Warriors couldn’t add to their score on a day when North Queensland again underlined its credentials. In a line-up brimming with quality players Ponga was sensational, making a staggering 327 metres with 22 tackle breaks.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Junior Warriors 10 (Levi McBirney, Erin Clark tries; Kauri Aupouri conversion).
North Queensland Cowboys 24 (Gideon Mosby, Kyle Laybutt, Mitch Dunn, Braden Uele, Kalyn Ponga tries; Kyle Laybutt 2 conversions).
Referee: Shane Rehm.
Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Lewis Soosemea, Levi McBirney, Semisi Tyrell, Paul Ulberg; Kauri Aupouri, Erin Clark; Bunty Afoa, Casey Lafaele, Paul Tuli; Ofahiki Ogden, Matiu Love-Henry; Jazz Tevaga (c). Interchange: Chris Sio, Koli Oneone, Tualima Tualima, Amoni Tufui.