Cowboys leapfrog Bulldogs into fourth

North Queensland Cowboys replaced Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL's top four thanks to Thursday's 24-16 victory.

The visitors came into this clash at Belmore Sports Ground one place and two points behind their hosts, but leapfrogged the Bulldogs due to having a vastly superior points difference.

A top-four finish guarantees two chances to reach the Grand Final, and reigning champions the Cowboys look in good shape to mount a strong defence of their crown.

Johnathan Thurston's penalty gave the Cowboys an early lead, but Greg Eastwood's intercept try from his own half put the Bulldogs in front.

Ethan Lowe slipped through a gap to restore the visitors' two-point advantage, and the Bulldogs were forced to defend a succession of sets to go into the break 6-4 in arrears.

They found themselves further behind 10 minutes after the restart when a superb Thurston dummy and break sent Lowe over untouched under the posts.

The Cowboys were beginning to dominate and stretched their lead beyond two converted tries when Coen Hess powered over from short range.

Curtis Rona took advantage of hesitation in the visiting defence to get the Bulldogs back to within eight with five minutes to go, but Jason Taumalolo barged over to make sure of the win, rendering Eastwood's second irrelevant as the Cowboys held on ahead of their final regular-season fixture at home to Gold Coast Titans next week.

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