North Queensland managed a rare victory without Johnathan Thurston as they stepped back into the winner’s circle on Saturday night with an 18-12 win over St George Illawarra in Wollongong.
After having their 11-game winning streak snapped the week before, the Cowboys managed a valuable representative-period win without their State of Origin stars in front of 11,813 at WIN Stadium.
It was just the Cowboys’ second win in their past six matches without Queensland playmaker Thurston and it marked the Dragons’ fourth loss in a row, bringing their finals’ credentials into question.
The teams were missing a host of stars, however the match was a surprisingly high-quality affair with both sides completing 35 of 37 sets.
Kane Linnett starred for the Cowboys, crossing for two tries and running for a game-high 250 metres, while Jason Taumalolo, Ben Hannant and Scott Bolton laid the platform up front.
The Cowboys had an 18-6 lead after the break when Jake Granville burrowed over from dummy half.
Mark Ioane – who only arrived at the Dragons this week after making a mid-season switch from Gold Coast – set up a grandstand finish when he came up with a spectacular four-pointer in the corner, however the Cowboys held on.
Earlier the visitors took a 12-6 lead into the break thanks to centre Linnett’s first-half double.
North Queensland jumped to an early break in the third minute when Linnett, who grew up in nearby Port Kembla, mopped up when Gavin Cooper had the ball stripped close to the line.
When Benji Marshall drifted across field and found a hard-running Euan Aitken, the Dragons levelled things up before Linnett pounced on a Robert Lui grubber to give his side the advantage at halftime.
Dragons winger Kiti Glymin’s debut was soured when he was taken off with a hamstring injury, while North Queensland’s Antonio Winterstein sat out the second half – also with a hamstring problem.