Cowboys thump Dolphins to keep finals hopes alive

Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS

North Queensland have kept their finals hopes alive, with fullback Scott Drinkwater starring in a 34-10 win over the Dolphins at Suncorp Stadium.

Drinkwater had two try assists, four line break assists, scored a try and landed five conversions in another classy performance to take the Cowboys to ninth on 30 points.

They are equal with South Sydney but behind the Rabbitohs on for and against.

The Cowboys travel to Penrith next Saturday, where they must win to play in the semis.

"I was really pleased with how we handled the pressure through the week," Cowboys coach Todd Payten said.

"If we play finals we'll deserve it, because we have to play Penrith next week and we'll have to find another gear."

The visitors led 24-0 at the break but the Dolphins were fuming at halftime that winger Kyle Feldt was not penalised in the 14th minute for a kick to the mouth of halfback Sean O'Sullivan when the Cowboys winger caught a bomb.

Feldt, who raised a foot, scored his 128th career try at the other end a minute later.

"It should have been a penalty," Greg Alexander said in Fox Sports commentary.

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett said his team would "have to live" with the decision while Payten said it was an accident and that the referee handled it perfectly.

Cowboys rookie centre Zac Laybutt scored a try double in the first half and Drinkwater finished a sweeping movement to score one of his own, started by a superb cutout pass by five-eighth Tom Dearden to winger Murray Taulagi.

The Cowboys were desperate in defence from the start.

Dearden and Laybutt saved what appeared a certain Jamayne Isaako try, showing the resolve of a side with their season on the line.

Drinkwater saved another try with a last ditch effort on Dolphins lock Kenny Bromwich.

Dolphins forward Josh Kerr was sin-binned and put on report for a hip-drop tackle on Taulagi.

Laybutt was also put on report for a dangerous tackle on Isaako while he was in the air that flipped the winger onto his back.

Isaako was sent for a head injury assessment by the independent doctor but returned after halftime.

Dearden set up Taulagi for a try after the break with another cracking face ball to put the game out of reach for the hosts.

Isaako, the NRL's leading point scorer and try scorer, stepped off both feet on a 35-metre run to the tryline, and then notched his second with a dazzling finish in the corner to take his season tally to 23 tries.

The Cowboys' 19-year-old bench forward Kulikefu Finefeuiaki showcased his enormous potential with a one-handed flick to put centre Peta Hiku over in his 200th NRL game, with prop Jordan McLean also celebrating his double-century in style.

Bennett was proud his team did not throw in the towel at 24-0 down.

"I will say this about these guys, about their ability to fight and keep going ….and the ability to play for each other got through that second half, otherwise we'd probably get beaten by 60-odd points," he said.

"It's a great credit to them that they have continually shown that.

"That's the thing that gives me confidence about our future, plus the ability for us to recruit new players as well."