Cowboys clinch Nines — but Dragons take home hope
North Queensland are the Kings of the Nines.
Paul Green's Cowboys have become the first NRL team to win two Nines titles after beating St George-Illawarra 23-14 in the final of the nine-a-side tournament at HBF Park in Perth last night.
In front of 14,739 fans, the Cowboys clinched the pre-season trophy for the second time after winning the inaugural event in 2014.
Watch over 50 sports LIVE on Kayo! Stream to your TV, mobile, tablet or computer. Just $25/month, cancel anytime. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
They also return to Townsville with a $250,000 winner's cheque - and a future star in exciting flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who sealed the four-tries-to-three win with an incredible kick-chase try.
While Saints coach Paul McGregor was proud of his side's effort to reach the final, it could come at an expensive cost.
Captain and hooker Cam McInnes has suffered a medial ligament injury in his knee, Korbin Sims a suspected broken arm and Matt Dufty is facing surgery for a fractured cheekbone.
The trio are all in major doubt for round one of the season next month.
Despite the injury drama, it's not all doom and gloom for the Saints after unearthing a potential prize of their own.
A 20-year-old plumber on his birthday has given McGregor and Red V fans the ultimate pre-season gift: hope.
Rookie fullback Cody Ramsey arrived in Perth on Wednesday as a teenager. He wakes this morning as the long-haired try-sneak who suddenly represents the light at the end of a dark tunnel for Saints fans.
Born in Orange, Ramsey is a devoted Billy Slater fan and the Dragons under-20s player of the year in 2019.
As if sensing the kick-and-giggle format would deliver riches for their boy, Ramsey's parents flew across the Nullarbor to be in the HBF Park crowd.
Refreshingly honest and polite, Ramsey was refusing to get ahead of himself despite his outstanding NRL audition which included four tries - the most of any player at the tournament.
"I moved here (Dragons) when I was 18 from Orange and I played SG Ball and then 20s last year, so this is my third year here,'' Ramsey said. "I'm just on a train and trial contract.
"This is Nines (football) - 13-a-side is a lot different so I'll just be happy when I get my shot and I'll just try and play my own football like I have been.
"Benny Hunt and all those boys have been taking me under their wing, so that's good. I'm learning heaps.
"I was pretty nervous, but I've just been trying to play my own football and not think about that."
The Cowboys took the ascendancy in the final close to halftime with tries to Coen Hess and Reece Robson before breaking clear to seal the win through Tabuai-Fidow.
Installed as $19 outsiders to win the tournament, the Dragons advanced to the final with victories over tournament heavyweights Cronulla, Penrith and Parramatta.
Eels coach Brad Arthur said: "It's tough, but there was probably too many missed opportunities.''
Yet it was the Dragons victory over Penrith that was shrouded in refereeing controversy.
There were fresh calls for the video referee to be used in the Nines format after Ramsey was incorrectly awarded a try when replays clearly showed he had planted the football over the sideline.
"It does demonstrate why we have a video referee in the premiership,'' NRL head of football Graham Annesley said.
While Penrith were gutted, it was the Dragons who made the most of their opportunity.
The Red V were also forced to do it the hard way after losing fullback Matt Dufty in the quarter-finals.
Dufty, who had enjoyed a sensational pre-season, was taken to a Perth hospital with a depressed fracture of the cheekbone after suffering a sickening collision with Eels forward Ray Stone.
Dufty is likely to require surgery, with the club's medical staff set to determine if he remains in Perth for the operation.
Aside from Ramsey, Josh Kerr, Tristan Sailor, McInnes and Hunt were the Dragons' best performers throughout the two-day carnival.
Big guns Corey Norman, Tariq Sims, Zac Lomax, Paul Vaughan, Trent Merrin and Issac Luke all watched the final from Sydney after being rested from the Nines.
Cowboys livewire Scott Drinkwater was named the Player of the Tournament.