Gareth Widdop led St George Illawarra Dragons to a 28-22 victory over North Queensland at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, after surviving a great Cowboys comeback to win their sixth game out of seven and retain their place at the top of the NRL ladder.
Nene McDonald and Gideon Gela-Mosby swapped tries early on before the flood gates opened and the Dragons scored four more first-half tries.
Tim Lafai got two, while Kurt Mann and Widdop touched down. Widdop added three conversions and a penalty for what looked to be a comfortable 28-4 scoreline at the interval.
But in the second half the Cowboys, without Johnathan Thurston, who is out with injury, came out fighting and scored three tries before running out of time at the end of the game.
Ben Spina, Michael Morgan and Scott Bolton scored their touchdowns, with Kyle Feldt adding three goals and John Asiata, deputising for Thurston, having more influence on the game as it unfolded.
But the Dragons held on, with Widdop putting down a marker for the England stand-off position for next month’s Test against Samoa at Campbelltown.
Dragons: 1 Jason Nightingale, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Timoteo Lafai, 5 Kurt Mann, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Josh McCrone, 8 Russell Packer, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Joel Thompson, 13 Jack de Belin; Interchange: 14 Tariq Sims, 15 Leeson Ah Mau, 16 Hame Sele, 17 Taane Milne.
Cowboys: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6 Michael Morgan, 15 John Asiata, 8 Patrick Kaufusi, 9 Blake Leary, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper (c), 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo; Interchange: 7 Ben Hampton, 14 Ethan Lowe, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Ben Spina.
A full review of all the weekend’s NRL action will feature in Monday’s edition of League Express