The return of North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston was upstaged by new winger Jordan Atkins’ stunning NRL debut as the Titans ran out 36-18 winners in their NRL season opener on the Gold Coast.
Thurston may have had top billing after making a remarkable comeback from injury but Atkins stole the show with a thrilling four-try haul.
The only other player to score four tries on debut was Tony Nash for Canterbury in 1942.
The Titans only learned an hour before kick-off that Thurston would definitely return from two shoulder reconstructions and play more than four weeks earlier than long expected.
However, the spotlight was soon firmly on 25-year-old Atkins of Stanthorpe.
Atkins became the first player off the club’s local talent production line to make his NRL debut and his heroics helped seal a fitting christening to the Titans’ new $160 million Robina home, Skilled Park.
Thurston tried to carry the Cowboys on his reconstructed shoulders, scoring all but four of North Queensland’s points including a two try haul but it was all to no avail.
The sellout 26,974-strong crowd booed Thurston when he ran out in the unfamiliar No.25 jersey.
And Cowboys coach Graham Murray didn’t have to wait long for Thurston’s shoulders to be tested.
The two-time Dally M medal winner chimed into the first tackle of the match on Gold Coast prop Michael Hodgson.
The Titans jumped to a 22-6 first half lead by piling on four tries including two in five minutes by Atkins.
Atkins’ second in the 25th minute was contentious.
He flew high to snaffle a Scott Prince cross field kick but appeared to lose control as he crashed down to earth.
However, video referee Tim Mander gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Just when the Titans threatened to run amok, that man Thurston scrambled over to score right on halftime to cut the deficit to 22-12.
After the Gold Coast led 22-12 at halftime, Atkins completed his hat-trick in the 50th minute thanks to a clever overhead pass by Brett Delaney.
Thurston crossed for a solo try in the 70th but Atkins was not to be outdone – his fourth four-pointer was confirmed by Mander in the 76th.
The Cowboys’ Test backrower Luke O’Donnell is on report for a 64th minute high shot on Titans reserve Josh Graham.