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Rookie halfback Isaiya Katoa and veteran five-eighth Kodi Nikorima steered the Dolphins to a 28-26 defeat of the Cowboys in a gripping Queensland derby in Townsville.

Trailing 10-0 early in the match and 22-18 at halftime, the Dolphins powered home in the second half to bounce back from last weekend's 18-14 loss to the Knights before a capacity crowd at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

Katoa, 20, and Nikorima, who is 10 years his senior, combined on both sides of the ruck to play a hand in all five of the Brisbane-based team's tries - three of which were scored by right winger Jamayne Isaako, who finished with 20 points.

The Tongan halfback also produced a try-saving tackle on Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt as the Dolphins hung on, despite the absence of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler, Tom Gilbert and Kenny Bromwich.

What a tackle by Katoa

The Cowboys started as they finished last weekend - coming back from 24-4 down against the Panthers to score three unanswered tries in a 26-20 loss - to race to a 10-0 lead after just seven minutes.

Winger Kyle Feldt, the greatest tryscorer in North Queensland history, added to his tally with a spectacular finish in the corner after halves Tom Dearden and Jake Clifford combined with fullback Scott Drinkwater.

Kyle Feldt Try

A 40/20 kick from Drinkwater gave the Cowboys field position and Kangaroos forward Reuben Cotter crashed his way over to score their second try just three minutes later.

Jamayne Isaako hit back for the Dolphins with his first try after halfback Isaiya Katoa linked with five-eighth Kodi Nikorima, who wrongfooted Val Holmes before passing to the Kiwis winger.

Jamayne Isaako 1st Try

Clifford kicked North Queensland's second 40/20 in the opening 15 minutes after rookie Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller misjudged the kick and the ball bounced over the sideline, but the Cowboys failed to capitalise.

Instead, it was the Dolphins who scored next to take a 12-10 lead after Katoa and Nikorima again linked up to put centre Tesi Niu over out wide in the 23rd minute.  

Strike second-rower Jeremiah Nanai put the Cowboys back in front after Fuller fumbled a Clifford bomb and the Test and Origin star swooped up the loose ball to score in the 30th minute.

Jeremiah Nanai 1st Try

However, Isaako grabbed his second try in almost identical fashion to his first after quick hands from Katoa, Nikorima and centre Jake Averillo created space for the Dolphins' right winger.

The lead changed again just before halftime after Katoa was unable to clean up a Dearden grubber into the Dolphins in-goal and Cowboys forward Sam McIntyre dived on the loose ball to give the home side a 22-18 lead.

Sam McIntyre Try

Isaako's third try levelled the scores after prop Josh Kerr hit the line and offloaded to Nikorima, who shifted the ball to Averillo and the former Bulldog ran towards the corner before flicking the ball inside to his right edge partner.

Averillo then put the Dolphins ahead 12 minutes before fulltime after winning the race for a Nikorima grubber into the North Queensland in-goal but a late Nanai try reduced the deficit to 28-26 after Holmes missed the sideline conversion.

Match snapshot

  • The Cowboys have now lost their last four matches after starting the season with four wins from their opening five games.
  • The Dolphins have won five of their eight matches.
  • Dolphins winger Jamayne Isaako completed back-to-back hat-tricks of tries against the Cowboys in North Queensland after scoring three tries in last year's corresponding match.
  • Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt has scored five tries in four games against the Dolphins.
  • Rookie Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller had a horror night under the high ball, fumbling three kicks, but he led the team for running metres with 68m from 18 carries of the ball.
  • Cowboys star Jason Taumalolo played 43 minutes off the interchange and topped the run metres for forwards on both teams, with 112m from 12 carries.  
  • Dolphins forward Felise Kaufusi was placed on report for a high tackle on Griffin Neame in the early exchanges.
  • Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater was placed on report for striking Euan Aitken with his elbow as he ran the ball into the Dolphins' defence.

Clifford with a huge 40/20

Play of the game

Jamayne Isaako's third try was not only his most spectacular of the night but also the most important as he levelled the scores at 22-22 in the 49th minute. The lead up started with halfback Isaiya Katoa, who sent Josh Kerr charging into the defensive line and the interchange forward spun in a tackle to offload to Kodi Nikorima. The Kiwi five-eighth quickly shifted the ball to centre Jake Averillo and the former Bulldog ran towards the corner before flicking a pass inside to Isaako who scrambled his way over the line.

Jamayne Isaako 3rd Try

What they said

"It's super frustrating, it makes me really angry and disappointed. In the end, we were just out worked when it really mattered. We knew that we were playing a team that just doesn't go away and started fast but were just unable to defend back-to-back sets and it's really disappointing. It's the unforced [errors] that are hard to make an excuse for, and they're the ones that really hurt your team. Other teams are making errors, but they've got the resilience to defend their line," - Cowboys coach Todd Payten.

Cowboys: Round 9

"It was a bit of a crazy game but I was pleased by our refusal to give up. As a coach, I'm really proud of them and I'm sure the fans are really proud of them too, with that type of effort. They overcame a lot, a huge amount actually that they had to overcome," - Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett.

Dolphins: Round 9

What's next

The Cowboys travel to the Gold Coast for another Queensland derby next Sunday, with Test and Origin winger Murray Taulagi scheduled to return from a hamstring injury.

Payten said he was back running and would undergo a fitness test on Tuesday before he was cleared to play against the Titans.

The Dolphins host the Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night and coach Wayne Bennett will be hoping to have Kiwis forward Kenny Bromwich back after sitting out the trip to Townsville due to concussion protocols.

Anthony Milford is also available after completing his suspension, but centre Tesi Niu is in doubt after coming from the field with an ankle injury in the 47th minute.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Dolphins respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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