North Queensland have moved into the NRL top four and denied Manly the minor premiership with a 30-16 win in Townsville.
North Queensland have shown off their title credentials in a 30-16 demolition of Manly in Townsville to deny the Sea Eagles the NRL minor premiership.
The Cowboys, languishing in 12th after 18 rounds, can now finish no worse than fifth at the conclusion of this weekend’s final regular-season round.
They will finish in the top four if the Warriors upset Penrith on Sunday.
Manly would have topped the ladder with victory but instead will finish second, with the Roosters to claim the JJ Giltinan Shield for the second consecutive year.
The win also notched up the longest winning streak at home for the Cowboys, the 10th straight win eclipsing the nine the club achieved in 2005 on their run to the grand final.
Newly re-signed halfback Robert Lui led the Cowboys’ charge, turning in a blinder to steal centre stage from club champion Johnathan Thurston.
His kicking game was precise, leading to two try assists and multiple repeat sets while he often attacked the line and scored a try himself.
“Robbie was outstanding tonight,” Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
“The first time we met Manly earlier in the year, I think defensively, they probably targeted Robbie.
“His kicking game was spot on (tonight). It was nice to see him take the line on and get a try there and defensively he was good also.”
Manly went into the clash undermanned, losing representative fullback Brett Stewart to an ankle injury on match eve with Glenn Stewart, Jamie Buhrer and Matt Ballin already in the injury ward.
But Manly coach Geoff Toovey wasn’t using the player drain as an excuse.
“To play so poorly I think was the disappointment, not so much the loss,” he said.
“Fifty-three per cent completions in the first half – we’ve been doing that now for three weeks. It’s just not good enough.
“We had a quality side today and we should have performed better.”
The Cowboys struck less than three minutes into the game when a Manly penalty handed Thurston a gift two points.
Tariq Sims was left groggy after a Jason King shot hit him high, but the referees ruled play on and centre Steve Matai crossed soon after for Manly to move to a 4-2 advantage.
The Cowboys had plenty of possession, but Tautau Moga went to ground on the last and Thurston threw a ball over the sideline.
Antonio Winterstein finally crossed, picking himself up off the deck from a heavy hit to score in the left corner.
A pinpoint Lui bomb found winger Kyle Feldt in the 27th minute and when Kane Linnett sliced over in the shadows of halftime, the score had blown out to 18-4.
North Queensland kept up the onslaught after the break, and Feldt bagged his double on a right-side raid.
Justin Horo pegged the lead back to 14 when he crossed following a penalty, but Lui all but sealed the result when he crossed in the 55th minute.
Stewart’s replacement, Clinton Gutherson, scored a consolation try in the final minutes.
The only negative for the Cowboys was prop Ashton Sims being placed on report for a high shot.