North Queensland have held out a late rally from Newcastle to stretch their NRL winning streak to five games with a 26-24 victory at Hunter Stadium.
The Cowboys led 26-12 in the 62nd minute despite losing backrower Jason Taumalolo (knee) and hooker Jake Granville (concussion) for the match inside the first seven minutes.
The Knights later had their own injury problem when five-eighth Jarrod Mullen left the game with concussion in the 34th minute.
Looking down and out well into the final quarter, centre Joey Leilua powered over from dummy-half for the Knights in the 69th minute before Sione Mata’utia bounced Johnathan Thurston off to score two minutes later, closing the gap to two points. However, handling errors and desperate Cowboys defence denied the Knights, who slipped to their fourth loss on the trot.
After leading 16-6 at halftime, North Queensland extended their advantage in the 42nd minute when winger Justin O’Neill scored his second try.
A break from dummy-half Ray Thompson put the Cowboys on the attack before a cut-out pass from Thurston gifted O’Neill the four-pointer.
Down 20-6, Leilua was held up over the line in the 51st minute but the Knights hit back a minute later when Aku Uate burst through poor ruck defence to sprint 60 metres to score.
The visitors pushed their lead back out to 14 points in the 61st minute when five-eighth Michael Morgan dummied then beat several defenders from 10m out to dot down, Thurston’s conversion making it 26-12.
In the first half, the Knights opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Chris Houston went through at close range from a Jarrod Mullen pass.
It came moments after Knights prop Korbin Sims was held up over the line. Newcastle’s joy was short-lived as Scott Bolton crashed over in the 18th minute after smart work from Thurston, who kicked, chased then stripped Kurt Gidley of the ball one-on-one close to the try-line.
Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote put the visitors ahead in the 21st minute when he dummied and stepped inside Mullen to score.
Thurston converted the try to make it 12-6.
Leilua lost the ball reaching out to score in the 31st minute and three minutes later the Cowboys rubbed salt into the wound as O’Neill cruised over out wide.