Cotter out of origin as hamstring strain marks Cowboys miracle return


The Cowboys scored three tries in three minutes to overturn a 26-12 deficit and win 28-26 late at Manly in one of the comebacks of the year, but the victory was spoiled by the exclusion of Reuben Cotter from ‘Origin II.

Tries in the 73rd, 74th and 75th minutes stole the game from the Sea Eagles, leaving the crowd at 4 Pines Park in shocked silence, scratching their heads at how their team lost a game they were sailing in.

It was a testament to the conviction and resilience of the Cowboys, who repeatedly risked their arm: with short dropouts, offloads and early shifts a feature of their all-night game.

North Queensland – indeed, all of Queensland – was rocked before the game even started by Cotter’s withdrawal in the warm-up with a suspected hamstring strain.

Lock was scratched from the game – replaced by 18th man Brendan Elliot – and after passing scans in Sydney on Friday night he has been ruled out for a month, meaning he will not only miss Game 2 of Origin but the series finale in Brisbane. Juky 13.

“He felt it go during warm-up and he’s going for a CT scan tonight,” Todd Payten said. “I think he’s obviously disappointed with what’s going on this week and the missed opportunity for him.

“But I think he’s going to come home, he’s got a new baby to watch and that will put things in perspective for him. I’m disappointed for the kid, he’s working so hard and he’s doing a wonderful job, not only for us but for Queensland.

“I guess (he’s out of Origin). It’s going to be a good stretch to start in ten days. For a kid his size, he has to rely on speed and power that will hurt his hamstrings. .

Tabuai-Fidow is also under a cloud as he failed an HIA test following a knee to the head by Morgan Harper. It appeared negligent rather than intentional and was not punished at the time, but could see legal action later.

Payten was impressed with his team’s resilience, although he wasn’t quite happy with some of the actions that saw them demanding a comeback.

“I enjoyed the last seven or eight minutes,” Payten said. “We played hard, we hung on and we were tested at different stages.

“We lost Reuben in the warm-up, the two back rowers last week weren’t playing. We lost Hamiso halfway through and we continued to meet and came away with the win.

“Across the team, everyone kept moving and played great football. We’re building our game on competition this year and on the first try they scored, we weren’t competitive enough.

“They scored three try kicks and we haven’t done that this year. They are so precious. They chicken out for the defensive team and the attacking team gets a huge boost. We scored a few ourselves at the end.

“I thought it was a real high quality game, decent football played and two fairly practical teams having a crack.”

Sea Eagles fans were shocked. They had played so well, with Lachlan Croker enjoying a banner night in which he scored twice and set up another while kicking superbly.

Reuben Garrick, again, was excellent from the back and went 250m with the ball in hand, while Jake Trbojevic made the best possible case for a late inclusion from Origin with another committed effort, topping the number of tackles.

“There are good reasons to say that after 72 minutes we were probably the better team,” said Des Hasler. We had the best run of the game. There are so many situations, so many ways we lost this game.

“But you have to give credit where credit is due, they kept hanging on and hanging on and they have these people who can hurt you.

“I think we played with a good tempo tonight. I make no apologies, we should never have lost this match and the players are really bitterly disappointed. It’s definitely something we need to address. We should have closed this game.

Jérémie Nanai scores. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Manly showed his intention from the start. Their first try was about both intelligence and effort: Kieran Foran kicked high and two Manly players got to the ball before Scott Drinkwater.

Neither could claim, but the ricochet fell to Toafofoa Sipley, who smartly returned the ball to Foran. The five-eighth chose Christian Tuipulotu’s perfect kick to recover.

Drinkwater was increasingly struggling with the high ball. He missed another which Koula collected to score, only for the bunker to find a hit in Haumole Olakau’atu’s build-up.

The combination was renewed again, with Olakau’atu forcing an offload which Koula caught and scored, only for the bunker to intervene again.

The pressure was one-sided. The Cowboys intended to attempt late offloads that only happened occasionally, allowing Manly to control the game.

When North Queensland finally got a good set of balls, they continued to play expansively but were thwarted by a late jamming tackle from Jason Saab which forced a forward pass.

Manly wasn’t making the most of his opportunities. After another error by the Cowboys in their own half, the Sea Eagles swerved from base scrimmage, Morgan Harper fended off Peta Hiku and fed the ball to Saab, only for him to drop it into touch. Des Hasler exploded into the coach’s box.

He didn’t need to worry too much. Hiku missed a simple tackle from the marker and allowed Harper to cross the line and cross the halfway line.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: Reuben Cotter of Cowboys during the NRL Round 7 match between North Queensland Cowboys and Gold Coast Titans at Qld Country Bank Stadium on April 23, 2022, in Townsville, Australia.  (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Ruben Cotter. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

He slowed as Drinkwater approached and found Garrick on the inside to pull away from Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and double the lead.

The danger of the second kick is one of rugby league’s great truisms, and it would strike for the second time in the match. Coen Hess rose above Garrick to return to Chad Townsend, and his boot found Valentine Holmes to put the Cowboys on the board.

There was still time for a controversy. With Manly kicking from a scrimmage play, Harper chased Tabuai-Fidow and caught him hard with a knee as the winger dove for the ball. He went for an HIA – from which he did not return – but Harper suffered no consequences.

The Cowboys started the second half in familiar fashion: a kick dropped under the posts, Andrew Davey failed to collect and Jeremiah Nanai did what he’s done all year, falling to a ball bouncing in the in-goal.

Manly matched them together for together. Aided by a penalty, they got into position and kicked for a corner, Croker dropping the ball onto Taulagi, who was unable to stop Tuipulotu.

Manly had the bit between his teeth. Trbojevic put Foran in a hole, but his inside pass to Cherry-Evans was blocked by Jordan McLean.

Croker was having a good time. He threw a 40/20 that put the Sea Eagles in great position, then got one himself from Cherry-Evans. Garrick scored for the first two-point lead of the night.

The second kick struck again. After Tuipuluto saved a final tackle, Croker kicked the posts. Josh Schuster missed it completely, but to complete the chain, Croker was on hand to get to the ball first.

Few things could be more unlikely than a brace from Croker – except maybe Croker completes a brace by assisting his own try.

The Cowboys needed something fast and got it. Nanai was the architect again, taking a trademark spot kick through the middle and tossing the ball to Reece Robson to cut the deficit to eight.

It got even shorter. Tom Dearden got Holmes down the left, he put him wide at Taulagi and the suspected Queensland winger sent the ball in the back of Connolly Lemuelu for a stunning try. Holmes kicked and the gap was just two with five remaining.

The pendulum was swinging everywhere. Nanai, usually so sure, dropped the ball from the kick-off, but from the scrum Cherry-Evans dropped the ball to Holmes who ran 80m and went inside Saab, putting North Queensland ahead for the first time of the night.

Cherry-Evans attempted the two-pointer without a siren, but the incredible had happened once and would never happen again.

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