Newcastle have snapped a seven-game NRL losing streak to consign North Queensland to a seventh-straight away loss for 2014.
North Queensland’s incompetence away from home reached a new low on Monday night when the Cowboys were outplayed 36-28 by NRL cellar dwellers Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.
The Knights were staring down the barrel of the second-worst losing run in their history, but managed to finally break a seven-game drought and climb off the bottom of the ladder.
Darius Boyd, Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley and Dane Gagai had a field day for the Knights, who raced in seven tries to experience some rare joy in an otherwise dismal 2014.
It consigned the Cowboys – who were flattered by the final scoreline – to their seventh loss away from Townsville from as many matches.
The finals hopes of one of the competition’s more-fancied teams hangs in the balance.
Coach Paul Green must desperately find a solution, with North Queensland four points out of the top eight with five matches still to come on the road in Sydney, including tough assignments against high-flyers Canterbury, Penrith and South Sydney.
To compound the mounting crisis up north, Ray Thompson broke down with a hamstring injury and Rory Kostjaysn with a rib problem to join Brent Tate (season) and Matt Scott (six weeks) on the casualty list.
Johnathan Thurston and James Tamou must still get through one more Origin before they can concentrate solely on club duties.
Thurston was shown up in defence in State of Origin I by NSW, and on Monday night it was the Knights’ turn to exploit the superstar’s tackling woes on the left-edge on their way to a third win of the season and first since Nathan Tinkler stepped away as owner.
Beau Scott was the first to beat Thurston leading to a Boyd try in the 22nd minute, and then 10 minutes after halftime, centre Gagai blitzed the Queensland star with brilliant footwork for the first of two tries.
Gagai’s classy display put him in the frame to replace Tate on the wing for the Maroons in Origin III.
A one-on-one strip from Knights prop Korbin Sims on his brother Ashton led to Akuila Uate crashing over for his sixth try in three games.
Robert Lui bagged a late double for a fast-finishing Cowboys, his second clearly dropped over the line but missed by the referees.
Boyd finished on report for a high shot on Thurston and Knights hooker Adam Clydesdale was carried off late with a hip injury.
Green said the Cowboys would need to win at least four of their last five away games to remain in premiership contention.
“We need to start winning those games. It’s frustrating because we are a different team defensively when we’re away from home compared to when we’re home,” he said.
“We need to be better. Twenty eight points should win you a game of footy.
“We’re under the pump in (the injury department) at the moment.”
Knights coach Wayne Bennett – proud of his players – said Gagai wouldn’t be considered by Queensland this year due to a disciplinary indiscretion in an emerging Maroons camp in January.
Gidley said the win lifted a weight from the team’s shoulders.
“I feel happy and relieved. I was a bit disappointed with the way we finished out on the field (Cowboys scored four tries in 18 minutes). But that’s worn off now,” he said.
“We’ve been busting our bums for a while now and come close a few times but just nice to get the two points, enjoy it and sing the song again.”