Bulldog brain explosion helps Cowboys to strike back-to-back
JACK Hetherington's hothead became explosive at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, leaving the Bulldogs at the mercy of the Cowboys and igniting a stale clash between the two spoon contenders.
The visitors were left a man down for the final quarter of the game after he levelled Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes with a careless swinging arm in the 30-18 loss.
It was an ugly incident which left Holmes visibly shaken on the ground, and referee Ashley Klein wasted little time before pointing the way to the dressing rooms.
Hetherington, who had earlier laid on the Bulldogs first try with an impressive offload, became the first player sent from the field this season and the first time it was used since Sharks halfback Chad Townsend was sent off in Round 17 last season for a late shot on Kalyn Ponga.
Despite being a man down the Bulldogs refused to die wondering, consistently stripping the Cowboys for numbers and scoring two late tries to almost fight their way back from an 18-point deficit.
But it would prove a bridge too far for the visitors which Mitch Dunn slicing his way to the line on a solo effort in the final minutes to lock in the win.
North Queensland grew an extra leg late in the first half following the injection of bench forwards Francis Molo, Corey Jensen and matchwinner Dunn.
The Cowboys struggled to find any go forward in the opening part of the first half, with starting front rowers Coen Hess and Jordan McLean monstered by the Bulldogs pack.
But Molo's (163m from 15 carries) injection in the 20th minute inspired the Cowboys go forward and gave them the field position to get on the board through a fifth-tackle kick for Kyle Feldt.
Jensen (118m) followed suit, paving a highway through the middle of the Bulldogs defence as the Cowboys wrestled back the momentum early in the second half.
Rookie backrower Ben Condon, who punched out 70 minutes, was also impressive with the ball in hand, narrowly missing out on triple figures but scoring for the second straight week on a barge over play.
FLANGAN FLEXES MUSCLE
The Roosters might have chosen young gun Sam Walker over him, but Kyle Flangan sent a clear reminder as to why he is one of the more exciting young halves in the game.
The Bulldogs conductor was pulling all the right strings late in the second half to pull his side back into the clash despite being down a man.
Flanagan scored a try under the sticks after refusing to die wondering on a poke through from dummy-half Sione Katoa.
He then backed up on the next attacking raid with a swift cut-out ball to set-up an overlap on the left edge to send Tuipulotu Katoa across to bring the Bulldogs within one try.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten will have plenty of questions to ask his defensive line which was constantly stripped of numbers despite having the man advantage in the final 20 minutes.
HEAT ON THE BUNKER
If there was scrutiny on the over-involvement of the bunker on the NRL it only intensified in Townsville.
Queensland Country Bank Stadium thundered with boos after a 50-50 captain's challenge went against the home side - but only after the footage was replayed six times on the big screen during a Captain's Challenge.
"The vision doesn't change, we have seen that angle six times now," Fox Sports commentator Warren Smith was left to lament.
Had the decision gone the other way it would have gifted the Cowboys a set on the Bulldogs line with five minutes to go before the main break.
Originally published as Bulldog brain explosion helps Cowboys to strike back-to-back