Cowboys beat Knights 32-12
North Queensland maestro Johnathan Thurston appears set for yet another dominant State of Origin series after steering the Cowboys to a 32-12 NRL win over Newcastle on Saturday night.
In his last club game before Origin I, Thurston was the master puppeteer, playing a role in four of the Cowboys' five tries as winger Ashley Graham scored with yet another double to take his tally to an NRL-best 11.
Thurston also managed five conversions and a penalty.
It was a case of third time lucky when Newcastle finally opened the scoring via Junior Sau in the ninth minute, with Timana Tahu and Neville Costigan having earlier both been held up over the line.
Matt Scott was denied a reply by the video referee for an obvious double movement.
Steve Clark's next intervention was more controversial when he rejected what appeared a fair effort by Kane Linnett - Clark ruling Akuila Uate had beaten the Cowboys centre to the ball.
Justice prevailed when a now dominating North Queensland scored with Graham powering over out wide and Ray Thompson finishing off a Brent Tate bust set up by Thurston and Matt Bowen for a 12-6 lead.
Knights skipper Chris Houston levelled proceedings in the shadow of halftime, but the Knights missed a golden opportunity to take the lead just after the restart when Uate spilled a ball at his laces without a defender in sight ten metres out from the Cowboys line.
Thurston made his own luck when a chip kick popped up off Tyrone Roberts for Michael Morgan to score just before the hour.
Thurston was more orthodox with his next effort, a sublime bullet pass for Graham to dive over out wide six minutes later.
Tate lost the ball as he crawled to the line before Thurston engineered the late double to secure the win which moved the Cowboys into third spot on the ladder.
The match finished with a bizarre Cowboys try featuring four kicks, Gavin Cooper eventually diving on the ball to complete an amazing sequence which started in their own half.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry said it was an important win on the eve of Origin.
"It's important to us, to get two in a row instead of being win-loss-win-loss," Henry said.
"It does keep us up there.
"We go and play Penrith next week and we'll be missing a few boys (to Origin) ... that's a good result for us."
Knights coach Wayne Bennett did the best to deflect attention from a disappointing second-half effort from his side by taking aim at the rules surrounding diving after no action was taken on a Thurston high tackle on Darius Boyd.
"One thing I'm pretty strong about in this game is that you don't lie down when you get hit, but we've had three guys now taken out in two weeks and we haven't got one penalty," Bennett said.
"So I'm going to encourage them to lie on the ground now and go the video ref and they can make another decision.
"The game doesn't want it, I don't want it, but if they don't want to do something about it, I'll give them an option."
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