Cowboys prove real deal as Storm crash to worst loss in nine years

Righto North Queensland, now you have our attention.

We barely raised an eyebrow when you beat up on the premiership pretenders, we arched an eyebrow when you monstered Parramatta in Darwin but this – a huge win against an albeit under-strength Melbourne – has finally made us sit up and take notice.

This is the Cowboys’ sixth consecutive victory and their best to date. It was achieved despite the losses of superstars Jason Taumalolo and Kyle Feldt to suspected MCL injuries early in a spirited contest.

The result snapped what had been a 12-game Storm winning streak against the northerners. Only a slight points differential now stands between North Queensland and Melbourne’s position in second spot on the competition ladder. What’s more, this was the Storm’s biggest loss since they copped a 39-0 drubbing at the hands of Canterbury in 2013.

This wasn’t meant to happen. Chad Townsend looked legless finishing last season with the Warriors, Valentine Holmes is collecting “fullback money” while playing in the centres and Todd Payten was meant to be the first clipboard-holder speared in 2022. All have proven revelations for the surprise packet of the competition.

Most pundits predicted the Cowboys would finish last and there was nothing in their opening-round loss to the Bulldogs to suggest otherwise. Yet Payten has overseen an unlikely resurgence that has now resulted in his side consolidating a spot in the top four.

Tom Gilbert scores a stunning a solo try for the Cowboys.Credit:Getty

There are excuses for Melbourne’s performance should they wish to make them. Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Christian Welch and Remis Smith were all unavailable. Even so, this was a shocking scoreline. Harry Grant was pitched into the uncustomary position of halfback on one of the few occasions that a test of Melbourne’s depth fell short. Winger Dean Ieremia had a particularly unhappy night, making two mistakes that led to opposition tries.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, have seemingly unearthed talent from nowhere. The seemingly irreplaceable Feldt was capably replaced by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Reuben Cotter and Taulagi are now in Maroons conversations and hooker Reece Robson – according to his coach – could do the job for the Blues if Damien Cook isn’t available.

The hosts led 12-6 after a tight second half, but kicked away in the second. Four tries in the space of just 12 minutes – Jeremiah Nanai scored two of them – transformed a contest into a cakewalk.

However, the try that will stick in the memory is the opening one. The Storm opted for a short goal-line drop-out, Tom Gilbert fielded it and then beat four men in purple to touch down. It had shades of Mark Geyer and the 1991 grand final. Taulagi’s acrobatic effort in the left-hand corner wasn’t shabby either.

The only thing more surprising than the North Queensland streak is the Melbourne one. They have now lost two in a row, a sequence that last year preceded a record run. However, the State of Origin period will result in the Storm losing troops rather than regaining them, making the upcoming games a difficult period for the club.

Craig Bellamy agonised over the decision over whether to coach on beyond this year. As the cameras panned to his box, he seemed to be, at least momentarily, second-guessing it.

If the Cowboys back up this performance against Penrith on Friday, even the biggest sceptics will become true believers.

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