Young Auckland-born winger Murray Taulagi has notched up his first NRL hat-trick to spearhead short-handed North Queensland Cowboys to a determined 36-20 victory over Newcastle Knights at Townsville.
In an explosive start to the NRL's round 11, the Cowboys raced to a 16-0 lead, thanks to three tries in quick succession - two to Taulagi and one to hooker Reece Robson.
But they were soon on the back foot, as former NZ Warriors forward Lachlan Burr and superstar Jason Taumalolo were sin-binned in quick succession, leaving North Queensland with only 11 on the field for five minutes.
With that numerical advantage, Newcastle struck back. Sauaso Sui, Enari Tula and Lachlan Fitzgibbon scored three tries in the space of seven minutes, levelling the scores and sending both sides into halftime locked at 16-16.
Newcastle's Starford To'a opened the scoring after the break, as the Cowboys had slipped 20-16 behind.
Down, but not out, the Cowboys produced a fightback. Back to their full quota of 13, they saw Taulagi secure his hat-trick in the 52nd minute, as the home side turned the tables.
Fullback Valentine Holmes gave the Cowboys the lead again, before forwards Mitchell Dunn and Heilum Loki scored tries of their own, as North Queensland produced 20 unanswered points to leave the Knights with no answer and take victory in the see-saw match.
The win moves the Cowboys into the NRL's top eight, ahead of both the Warriors and Canberra Raiders on points differential, but with one more game played.
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