JOSH Reynolds says he still doesn’t know the difference between Origin and club football but North Queensland coach Neil Henry reckons only nine of his 17 players who took on Canterbury are even up to first grade standard.
Unused NSW reserve Reynolds laid on the try that put the Bulldogs in front for the final time in a 36-26 win at 1300SMILES Stadium and also hoisted a bomb that provided the following touchdown, assuring the Belmore side of a top eight spot for the first time this season.
The concession of 24 unanswered points after leading by eight with 17 minutes remaining prompted a withering assessment from under-pressure Henry, who said: “We’ve probably got nine out of 17 who are up to NRL standard out of that game.
“The others aren’t because we can’t maintain the quality you need to win in this competition.”
Reynolds – who was on the Blues bench but didn’t get on the field in Origin I on Wednesday night – says he felt no pressure returning to the NRL arena and wearing jersey 19.
“Joshy Morris got 23 which was Michael Jordan’s number. I wouldn’t have minded that one but I ended up in 19,” he told Fairfax Media.
“Listening to a lot of the older guys about how Origin is played and how it’s a lot faster – for me, I haven’t felt that yet because I didn’t get out there.
“But for the experience, running out into that crowd where there were so many Blues fans … to represent my family for my state was an awesome feeling.”
Coach Des Hasler said Reynolds “really enjoyed the experience. There’s nothing like an Origin camp. To be in that mix, to be in that company, is good for him”.
The coaching grim reaper stalks Henry on the same day that a mythical stork visited his captain, Johnathan Thurston, who welcomed a baby girl and did not play because of a groin injury. He failed a Saturday morning fitness test.
An entertaining first half finished in a 12-12 deadlock, with the Cowboys having led for six minutes but impressing for the entire 40.
The opening try came at 22 minutes, Michael Ennis releasing Greg Eastwood with a gem of a pass in midfield. The Kiwi international seemed to have muffed a certain try by dummying to Ben Barba.
But after defender Brent Tate hit Eastwood from behind, he still had the strength to stay on his feet and belatedly off-load to fullback Barba who scored.
Halfback Trent Hodkinson’s conversion got the Bulldogs off the mark in a game they were expected to win in a canter.
But centre Tate’s response seven minutes later was a beauty. Glenn Hall laid on a nice pass for fullback Greenshields who roared into the clear, drew the remaining defence and put the Queensland Origin winger away.
The conversion was halfback Robert Lui’s first at NRL level.
Second rower Hall’s role as a creator of attacking opportunities continued when he piloted Greenshields into another hole not long afterwards. On this occasion, the Canterbury defence managed to round him up – but not to prevent a touchdown.
Five-eighth Michael Morgan’s handly flick pass gave lock Dallas Johnson – smashed in an earlier tackle by Frank Pritchard – his first try of the season.
But the second Bulldogs try of the round 13 contest was worryingly easy from the point of view of besieged NQ coach Neil Henry.
From a scrum 15 metres out, Barba beat the despairing tackle of Morgan and the cover of Tariq Sims to plunge over, Hodkinson tying up the scores
The Cowboys regained the lead shortly after halftime when Lui – their best player last night – grubber kicked into the Canterbury in-goal and Barba fumbled.
Greenshields was on the spot to dot down and Lui goaled – before giving his side a 20-12 advantage eight minutes later when Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano was penalised for a shoulder charge.
But once again, Canterbury managed to respond with a try that looked nothing if not simple.
After a penalty, Ennis and Hodkinson combined before Barba chimed into the backline eight metres out and lofted a beautifully-weighted pass to winger Mitch Brown who crossed just inside the corner post.
Hodkinson’s good run with the boot continued from the sideline – with the help of a richochet off the woodwork.
The Cowboys then clung grimly to their two point advantage, almost adding to it when Lui pounced on a bobbling Canterbury pass and off-loaded to Kalifa FaiFai Loa near halfway at 61 minutes.
In his eagerness to evade defenders, the winger seemed to run away from the tryline. He was hauled in by the Bulldogs defence and replacement Blake Leary knocked on not long afterwards.
Des Hasler’s side took its chances in the run home to fulltime.
With 16 left, Reynolds put late inclusion Tony Williams over from close range, with Hodkinson’s conversion giving the visitors a four-point lead.
And it was Reynolds again who sealed victory with a skyscraping bomb at 72 minutes. Williams came up with the ball and shovelled it to Eastwood who crossed between the posts, Hodkinson adding the extras.
Further tries to Hodkinson and Lui brought down the curtains on the contest.
Thurston, whose partner gave birth to their first child on match eve, wasn’t the only player from the teams in that situation with Canterbury late inclusion Tony Williams also a first-time father during the week.
Henry said he had learned to blot out speculation over his future, while captain Matt Scott mounted a spirited defence of his besieged mentor.
“It’s part of the territory, we’re under-performing, we’re hurting,” said Henry, who was reported a fortnight ago to have two games to save his job.
“That speculation has happened and that’ll hang around until we turn things around. I can’t let that be a distraction from my work.
“What can you do? You deflect it and move on. We have high expectations. The club and fans do and the club’s not achieving those at the moment.
“Accountability rests with the head coach.”
Scott said: “The nature of the beast is that the head coach does cop almost all the pressure externally. But at the moment, you can’t really blame Neil for what happened out there.”
Hasler attacked the performances of referees Matt Cecchin and Gavin Reynolds.
“We were ugly, the Cows were probably uglier but the referees were the ugliest,” Hasler said.
“Over-reffing, over-ruling each other, over-analysing. When’s a knock-on a knock-on. Both ways, critical parts of the field, just let the game go, let it flow.”
Morgan went off with a shoulder injury late. Thurston (groin) should be fit to take on St George Illawarra on Friday.
CANTERBURY 36 (B Barba 2 M Brown G Eastwood T Williams T Hodkinson tries T Hodkinson 6 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 26 (B Tate D Johnson C Greenshields R Lui tries R Lui 5 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referees: M Cecchin/G Reynolds. Crowd: 12,775.
Filed for: SUN-HERALD