The new Titans home at Skilled Park, Robina – dubbed the “Temple of Boom” by Titans marketeers, was home to a sell-out crowd of 26,974 that watched the Coast run in six tries to three after jumping out to a 22-12 lead by halftime.The lifeless Cowboys could have done with Indiana Jones to crack the whip on some weak defence – an unwanted early season worry for coach Graham Murray.
Rumours of Thurston’s surprise appearance a month early from double shoulder surgery sparked a betting plunge mid-week, with bookies standing to take a bath if the star playmaker had guided his side to victory.
He did his best – crossing twice – but it was his brilliant Titans nemesis Scott Prince (six goals) and 24-year-old Atkins who made sure the Cowboys didn’t ruin Skilled’s grand unveiling.
Atkins, who hails from Toowoomba and was plucked from feeder club the Burleigh Bears, crossed twice in the first half before torching the Cowboys for two more in the second to come from the clouds in the season opener.
“I expected maybe a couple of scoots from dummy half and that was it,” a shocked Atkins said after the match.
If the scoreline wasn’t bad enough, Cowboys lock Luke O’Donnell faces possible suspension after he was placed on report for his 64th minute high shot on Titans reserve Josh Graham.
Thurston crossed twice but failed to impose himself on the game in the fashion fans have come to expect from the Queensland and Kangaroos halfback.
If his panel beaten shoulders were giving him cause for self-doubt, Thurston was showing no outward signs as early proceedings unfolded.
Sporting the unfamiliar 25 on his back, he made the opening tackle of the night to fell charging Titans prop Michael Hodgson, before almost putting Ashley Graham over after five minutes, only to be held up by Preston Campbell.
While Thurston was using smarts to confound the Coast defence, Titans co-captain Luke Bailey went for a more agricultural approach when he carried two defenders over in the 11th minute to deflower Skilled Park’s virgin in-goals and make it 6-0 after Prince’s conversion.
The capacity crowd was wide awake but the Titans’ left-hand defence found time for a nap to blow the early advantage six minutes later.
The first was a regulation effort, sprinting away from a Brett Delaney draw-and-pass to dive over in the 21st minute.
His second was anything but run of the mill. Atkins leaped above the pack to grab a Prince cross-kick before his finger-tip grounding – as he was launched into touch by Mark Henry – was the beneficiary of a generous video refereeing decision by Tim Mander.
A simple Anthony Laffranchi try through some worryingly weak Cowboys defence advanced the score to 22-6 soon after before a crisply worked backline move had Thurston strolling over out wide in the final minute of the half, with his curveball conversion giving his side a faint sniff at 22-12.
A sniff was all it was. Prince’s early penalty extended the lead before that man Atkins was in for his third, finishing off a stunning Titans try with a bolt down the right flank.
Atkins was saluting but he owed Delaney, who floated a beautiful pass over the heads of the Cowboys cover defence to set up the 51st minute special that all but sealed victory at 30-12.
Thurston crossed for his second with seven minutes remaining but fittingly Atkins had the final word, cantering over for his fourth with just minutes to play and put an unforgettable stamp on the 36-18 victory.
The only other player to score four tries on debut was Tony Nash for Canterbury in 1942.
GOLD COAST 36 (J Atkins 4 L Bailey A Laffranchi tries S Prince 6 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 18 (J Thurston 2 B Harris tries J Thurston 3 goals) at Skilled Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne. Crowd:Â 26,974.