Newcastle Knights ambush Cowboys in Monday night NRL

RUGBY LEAGUE

Ethan Lowe of the Cowboys is tackled by the Knights' defence at Hunter Stadium on Monday night. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Ethan Lowe of the Cowboys is tackled by the Knights' defence at Hunter Stadium on Monday night. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Akuila Uate scores for Newcastle against the North Queensland Cowboys. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Akuila Uate scores for Newcastle against the North Queensland Cowboys. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

North Queensland's incompetence away from home reached a new low on Monday night when the Cowboys were outplayed 36-28 by NRL cellar dwellers Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.

The Knights were staring down the barrel of the second-worst losing run in their history, but managed to finally break a seven-game drought and climb off the bottom of the ladder.

Darius Boyd, Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley and Dane Gagai had a field day for the Knights, who raced in seven tries to experience some rare joy in an otherwise dismal 2014.

It consigned the Cowboys - who were flattered by the final scoreline - to their seventh loss away from Townsville from as many matches.

The finals hopes of one of the competition's more-fancied teams hangs in the balance.

Coach Paul Green must desperately find a solution, with North Queensland four points out of the top eight with five matches still to come on the road in Sydney, including tough assignments against high-flyers Canterbury, Penrith and South Sydney.

To compound the mounting crisis up north, Ray Thompson broke down with a hamstring injury and Rory Kostjaysn with a rib problem to join Brent Tate (season) and Matt Scott (six weeks) on the casualty list.

Johnathan Thurston and James Tamou must still get through one more Origin before they can concentrate on club duties.

Thurston was shown up in defence in State of Origin I by NSW, and on Monday night it was the Knights' turn to exploit the superstar's tackling woes on the left-edge on their way to a third win of the season and first since Nathan Tinkler stepped away as owner.

Beau Scott was the first to beat Thurston leading to a Boyd try in the 22nd minute, and then 10 minutes after halftime, centre Gagai blitzed the Queensland star with brilliant footwork for the first of two tries.

Gagai's classy display put him in the frame to replace Tate on the wing for the Maroons in Origin III.

A one-on-one strip from Knights prop Korbin Sims on his brother Ashton led to Akuila Uate crashing over for his sixth try in three games.

Robert Lui bagged a late double for a fast-finishing Cowboys, his second clearly dropped over the line but missed by the referees.

Boyd finished on report for a high shot on Thurston and Knights hooker Adam Clydesdale was carried off late with a hip injury. - AAP

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