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Roosters' replacement winger bags five tries in demolition job over Cowboys

When the going got tough, the Sydney Roosters got going to blow away North Queensland 42-16 with replacement winger Matt Ikuvalu bagging five tries in Thursday night's NRL clash in Townsville.

Whatever coach Trent Robinson said at halftime worked as the two-time defending premiers turned around an error-riddled first stanza to pile on six second stanza tries with Ikuvalu the big winner.

Reserve Ikuvalu arrived in Townsville thinking he would be watching from the stands.

But he got a last minute call-up after veteran winger Brett Morris went down with a groin complaint in the warm-up.

North Queensland no doubt wished Ikuvalu hadn't played as the late addition became the first Rooster to score five tries in a match since 1955.

Ikuvalu had only four career tries in 15 games before he answered the Roosters' SOS.

"That was a night for how you should prepare yourself in the shadows and then get the rewards under the spotlight," Robinson said of Ikuvalu.

Yet at first it didn't seem to be the Roosters' night.

After their flight from Sydney was delayed for two hours, they lost Morris before kick-off then inspirational hooker Jake Friend (concussion) came off second best with a try bound Reece Robson in the 24th minute and didn't return.

He was replaced by five-eighth Lachlan Lam, appearing in his first NRL game of the year and first time at hooker.

Somehow the Roosters came back from 6-0 down to hang for a 12-6 halftime lead despite eight errors - and then the floodgates opened.

The visitors piled on four tries in the first 12 minutes of the second stanza as Ikuvalu completed his hat-trick by the 45th and playmaker Luke Keary nabbed a quick double.

Ikuvalu helped himself to another two in four minutes to bag five by the 64th minute to blow the scoreline out to 42-6 before two consolation tries to the Cowboys.

Adding injury to insult, the Cowboys didn't feature star winger Valentine Holmes (ankle) in the second half.

Holmes was in just his second game back after missing two games with the ankle injury and appeared in trouble midway through the first half.

Star Roosters fullback James Tedesco was again inspirational with four try assists and 211 run metres.

The Roosters have now won six of their last seven games.

The Cowboys have lost five of their last six.

"Our confidence is very brittle so when something goes against us, as a team we need to be more tougher mentally," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.

Despite the stirring win in their first game in Townsville since 2016, the Roosters' depth looks set to be tested.

Morris and Friend are added to an injury list that already boasted co-captain Boyd Cordner (concussion), Daniel Tupou (ankle), Victor Radley and Sam Verrills (both knee).

The Cowboys' backline stocks also look thin after Holmes joined Justin O'Neill (concussion) and Tom Opacic (knee) on the sidelines.