North Queensland coach Paul Green was immensely satisfied after his side stole a last-second 21-20 NRL win over the Raiders on Saturday in Canberra.
A Johnathan Thurston masterclass steered the Cowboys home in the dying seconds.
After an 8-6 lead at halftime, Matthew Wright and Gavin Cooper crossed the stripe for the Cowboys to regain a lead which had briefly been pinched from their grasp by a try to Raiders fullback Jack Wighton in the 58th minute.
But, Canberra winger Jordon Rapana was taken out in the air, and a successful penalty by Jarrod Croker in the 78th minute levelled the score at 20-20, threatening to send the game into golden point.
The Cowboys won a scrum 35 metres out following a Raiders mistake and Thurston had two field goal attempts charged down in the final minute of the game.
He finally potted the winner with just seconds remaining.
Green was thrilled with the performance of his State of Origin representatives, with props Matt Scott and James Tamou also having strong games.
A shoulder injury prevented Michael Morgan backing up, with the Cowboys ruling the Queensland utility out hours before kickoff.
“I was really proud of the way that they came back, and the attitude they had when they came back,” Green said of his Origin stars backing up only three days after the MCG Origin II blockbuster.
“It shows they really care about the team.
“Origin is obviously massive, and it’s a great thing to be part of, but you can tell with our blokes that when they get back, they care quite a lot about the team. And it showed today with the way they played out there. It was a huge effort.”
Scott and Tamou were enormous, making 151 and 218 metres respectively, while Thurston had a role in two of the three Cowboy tries, as well as kicking four goals and the winning field goal.
“Everyone’s got their role in the team, and I thought those three Origin boys in particular, today, really showed what being a professional rugby league player is all about,” Green said.
“The performances they put in out there today was better than tradesman-like; it was a really big effort from those three guys.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart was offering little post-match, but was obviously disappointed to have a lost a game in which his players had defended so sternly just to remain in touch.
“I said probably two months ago that I was a proud coach of these guys, and I’m even more proud of them after that effort,” Stuart said, after his side were forced to make 125 more tackles than the Cowboys.
“We’ll get so much out of that game, as a squad. I’m disappointed for the players, because they’re in there broken-hearted because of the effort they put in. They won’t understand it right at this moment, but we’ll get so much out of that.”
The win propels the Cowboys to provisional first on the NRL table, ahead of Sunday’s Storm-Brisbane game in Melbourne.
The Raiders’ loss leaves them with just one home win in 2015.