The Cowboys have kept the momentum from last weeks win going, getting the jump on the St George Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium. North Queensland getting the victory, with key half Jonathan Thurston returning to vintage form and inspiring his teammates to pull it all together.
Much like Scott Prince for the Gold Coast on Friday night, Thurston was the difference as he dragged the Cowboys over the line in a scrappy game that only saved face courtesy of a tight finish.
He scored the opening try and then played a leading role in Justin Smith’s second-half four-pointer which stretched the visitors’ lead out to 20-6, North Queensland forced to withstand a furious fightback which nearly saw the Dragons snatch an undeserved win.
Thurston said he had not seen Prince’s game against Parramatta but knew the pressure was on to perform.
“There’s a fair few good half-backs running around at the moment,” the Australia No.7 said.
“Princey’s in pretty good form but all I can control is how I play and that’s the way I seem to play â€“ once the boys rolled forward for us it presented some opportunities.”
His coach Graham Murray was in no doubt who deserved the Test half-back spot.
“JT answered it as well â€“ they’re level pegging but I think JT’s the best at the moment,” Murray said.
Neither side was helped by an insipid refereeing display from Tony De Las Heras and his partner in the box Graeme West, the majority of their decisions leaving fans and officials scratching their heads.
The Dragons looked like they had made the perfect start when Jamie Soward ghosted through the Cowboys’ defence only for West to spot an obstruction not seen by anyone else in the ground.
It was as bemusing a decision as West’s call to award Soward a four-pointer on 30 minutes, the Dragons half appearing to knock the ball on not once but twice as he attempted to ground the ball to make it 8-6 after Thurston’s earlier effort.
The Dragons found plenty of ways to botch points, Rangi Chase failing to simply fall on a rolling ball as he chased his own grubber into the in-goal, their hopes sunk in a myriad of poor handling and costly penalties.
“The second half we gave away a penalty on tackle five and Thurston’s a good player so they keep the ball for the next 10 minutes,” Dragons coach Nathan Brown said.
“I’m not sure if some players understand what they do to the team by committing these simple errors.”
Anthony Watts dived over untouched from dummy half just after half-time and when Thurston put Carl Webb through a hole and backed himself before finding Smith to score, it looked game over at 20-6.
The Dragons threatened when Jason Nightingale plucked out a Chase kick to score out wide and it was a contest again when Ben Hornby put Stuart Webb over on 70 minutes.