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The Warriors have crumbled to a last-minute loss via field goal for the second time this season, pipped 29-28 by North Queensland Cowboys to lay a magnificent, Reece Walsh-led fight-back to waste.

Trailing 22-6 at halftime after they conceded two tries while Jazz Tevaga took 10 minutes to contemplate a brainless late tackle, the Warriors scored 22 unanswered points – the first 16 of which came as mind-blowing rookie Walsh laid on tries for Euan Aitken and Marcelo Montoya either side of his own scintillating long-range four-pointer – to all but seal a momentous win.

But the Cowboys levelled late through a runaway try to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, before Valentine Holmes nailed a 40-metre field goal with 40 seconds left on the clock.

The Warriors’ halves’ lack of authority and poise in the clutch proved critical, Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita tarnishing otherwise solid games with poorly-executed last-tackle plays near the Cowboys’ line in the dying minutes.

The Warriors breezed to a 6-0 lead after only a couple of possessions. Excellent vision from Wayde Egan to exploit the Cowboys’ shortage on the blind allowed Kodi Nikorima to send centre Euan Aitken powering over for his first try as a Warrior.

The visitors spent the ensuing period under the pump, however, through a combination of penalties and the Cowboys’ ability to force a succession of line dropouts.

The Warriors cracked in the 14th minute, poor communication on the right edge from Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Pompey and Marcelo Montoya saw Kyle Feldt score his 12th career try against the Kiwi club.

Impatience, poor execution and inexplicably flat attack thwarted the Warriors’ subsequent opportunities. A dubious captain’s challenge in favour of the Cowboys – after Feldt bumped Montoya in the air near the Warriors’ line – led to their second try in the 27th minute.

Beautiful work from Scott Drinkwater and Valentine Holmes opened up a free passage for right winger Murray Tualagi to continue his tryscoring purple patch.

The worst side of Jazz Tevaga then reared its head as the Warriors looked like imploding. The firebrand lost the plot with a dumb late hit that earned 10 minutes in the bin.

The Warriors probably would have made it to halftime without incurring any further scoreboard damage – had they not inexplicably failed to complete two straight sets.

A rash offload by Eliesa Katoa, followed by a penalty against Pompey, led to Jake Clifford scoring a neat kick-and-chase try for a 16-6 lead.

The Cowboys then blasted to a commanding advantage in their next set, Reece Robson catching the defence napping and sending Drinkwater on a sizzling 50-metre run to the try-line.

But after a comparatively quiet opening 40 minutes, Walsh exploded early in the second half to cut the deficit to just four points.

Brilliant footwork and slick hands from the fullback, followed by similar from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, laid on Aitken’s second try off a scrum.

Then after a dangerous situation near the Warriors’ line was defused, Montoya showed good awareness to offload to Walsh, who embarked on a thrilling 85-metre run down the sideline.

Reeled in by a stunning chase from rookie Cowboys forward Heilum Luke, Walsh displayed remarkable poise and dexterity to get the ball down in the corner.

After surviving a few more dicey goal-line situations, the Warriors levelled the scores with 20 minutes to go – and again it was their 18-year-old prodigy coming up with the goods.

Walsh’s cut-out produced a third try for Montoya in the space of two games.

The Warriors reclaimed the lead with 15 minutes left thanks to more clever work near the Cowboys’ line from Egan, hit Ben Murdoch-Masila flat for the Super League returnee to score his team-high sixth try of 2021.

Though they probably put their cue in the rack too much, the Warriors were on course to close the match out and looked comfortable in defence – until the Cowboys unleashed their speedster in the 76th minute.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, out for the past six weeks and barely sighted in the centres, took a pass on the flank and flashed away from a blistering 65-metre try.

Valentine Holmes converted from handy possession to square it up at 28-all.

A controversial knock-on call against the Cowboys two plays after the restart gave the Warriors with a gift-wrapped opportunity to ice the game. But at the end of a laboured set, Chanel Harris-Tavita pushed his one-pointer attempt wide.

Handed a seven-tackle set, the Cowboys worked the ball into position for Holmes to blast a booming 40-metre field goal between the sticks.

A heart-breaker for the Warriors after such a stirring fight-back. A crucial two points lost heading into the bye.

Once again easily the biggest – arguably the only – genuine positive from a loss was the staggering efforts of Walsh. The ability of Nikorima and Harris-Tavita to step up in the clutch was again found wanting, while a massive turnaround defensively and from the Warriors’ middle forwards came unstuck in the last five minutes.

The silver lining is the impending return of Addin Fonua-Blake after the week off – though it will be against Melbourne Storm for the 5-7 Warriors. The emotional rollercoaster continues.

North Queensland Cowboys 29 (Kyle Feldt, Murray Tualagi, Jake Clifford, Scott Drinkwater, Hamison Tubuai-Fidow tries; Valentine Holmes 4 goals; Holmes field goal) defeated Warriors 28 (Euan Aitken 2, Reece Walsh, Marcelo Montoya, Ben Murdoch-Masila tries; Kodi Nikorima 4 goals) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville. 



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