St George Illawarra have moved back into the NRL top eight with a well-earned 14-10 win over a depleted North Queensland in Wollongong.
In front of a crowd of 10,032 on Saturday night, the Dragons appeared to have thrown away an early 10-0 lead when the Cowboys responded with tries either side of halftime to level the scores.
The turning point at WIN Stadium came when Lachlan Coote, filling in at five-eighth, failed to find touch in the 62nd minute, allowing centre Euan Aitken to score the winning try when he powered over in the ensuing set.
All three of the Dragons’ tries came off set-piece plays.
Dragons prop Russell Packer was immense for the home team, who were marshalled capably by Benji Marshall in his return from a hamstring injury, while halves partner Gareth Widdop also shone.
The Cowboys, who missed their five State of Origin stars in Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Matt Scott, James Tamou and Justin O’Neill, spurned a chance to leapfrog Brisbane into third spot.
The Dragons had earlier looked like running away from the reigning premiers when Jason Nightingale and Kurt Mann finished set-piece movements to give the hosts a 10-0 lead by the 14-minute mark.
That was how the scoreline was set to stay at halftime, but Kyle Feldt pegged one back just before the break for the visitors when he took an AFL-style mark over Mann off a Coote kick.
Cowboys rookie Jahrome Hughes, in his first game since making his debut for Gold Coast in 2013, levelled the game soon after the break by shrugging off four defenders on his way to the line.
North Queensland were also questionably denied a 60-metre first-half try to Javid Bowen after Coote was ruled to have knocked on in a one-on-one strip of Tyson Frizell in the lead-up.
MORE TO COME