Cowboys stumble in race for top two as Souths march towards finals

Accor Stadium: A sickening high shot by Coen Hess on Campbell Graham compounded a horror night for North Queensland.

The Cowboys needed to beat the Rabbitohs on Saturday night to remain second on the NRL ladder, with a qualifying final in their Townsville backyard up for grabs.

But Todd Payten’s men, who finished the game with 11 players, lost 20-10 to South Sydney and have been leapfrogged by the Sharks. And it looks like they will be without fiery forward Hess for a few weeks, too.

Hess shot out of the line and belted Graham with his left shoulder with seven minutes remaining.

The Cowboys trailed 14-10, and needed a big play to keep Souths camped deep in their own end.

But Hess got it wrong and Souths players let him know it by shoving him to the ground.

Cody Walker celebrates an Alex Johnston try.Credit:Getty

Graham bounced back to his feet, and when replays of the high shot were beamed inside Accor Stadium, he shook his head in disgust before lobbing the ball at Hess’ head.

Hess was placed on report and given a good old-fashioned Souths spray from the fans as he disappeared up the tunnel.

Graham came from the field as part of a free interchange for foul play, but passed his head injury assessment to finish the game.

This one will hurt the Cowboys for a while. Kyle Feldt was sin binned a few minutes later when he obstructed Alex Johnston as he tried to score. At least they get to meet a third-string Panthers in the final round, with the premiers to rest most of their senior players.

Jason Taumalolo can’t find a way through.Credit:Getty

Tom Burgess barged over under the posts in the final minute to seal the win for Souths.

When the big Brit scored his four-pointer, the Souths faithful – including Burgess’ mother Julie – turned to coach Jason Demetriou’s box and gave him a standing ovation.

It is some achievement for Demetriou to make the finals in his first year of head coaching. Most people expected Souths to make the eight, but after a 1-3 start to the year, Demetriou held his nerve. He also had to cope without Latrell Mitchell for a large chunk of the year.

Friday night’s clash against bitter rivals the Sydney Roosters will be a little less volatile now both clubs are assured of September football.

The Roosters were involved in a Friday night epic with Melbourne, and it almost caused a hangover effect given how flat it felt for most of the night at Sydney Olympic Park.

Easts will be without a string of big names because of suspension or injury.

Damien Cook was a late scratching against the Cowboys because of COVID. And after testing positive on Saturday, he is unlikely to return in time for the Allianz Stadium opening.

Souths led 14-6 for most of the second half before Feldt scored a long-range try.

And when Taane Milne knocked the ball on from a kick, in the exact same spot Jaxson Paulo famously spilled the Steeden a fortnight earlier, the Cowboys had every chance to draw level and even hit the lead.

But they dropped the ball, then Hess was a little too eager going after Graham.

Aside from the late fireworks, Souths and the Cowboys will need to quickly improve in time for the business end of the season.

While there were some fantastic defensive shots – Jason Taumalolo on Junior Tatola was one of many highlights – the attack from both teams appeared discombobulated.

Jai Arrow sent a scare through the Souths camp early when he dislocated a finger and hopped around in pain in back play.

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