North Queensland have seen a tough challenge at home from St George Illawarra 31-12 to win their 10th game of the season and cement themselves into the top four of the competition.
The Cowboys have a knack for ramping up their defensive intensity in the second half, holding their opposition to just that one try in the second stanza.
Their 46 points awarded in the second half to 14 rounds this season is the NRL’s best.
Cowboys try to close Connelly Lemuelu and Murray Taulagi at the start and end of the second half on a night of errors, but the home side still had good control after adding three tries to one in the first stanza.
It was the visitors who enjoyed the lion’s share of the area in the second half, but only took advantage of it late with a try on Jaydn Su’a in the 74th minute.
Their ball game deep in the last third was concluded with a strong defense by the Cowboys.
North Queensland hooker Reece Robson paved the way with 43 tackles, none better than former teammate Francis Molo on his tryline for forcing a late error.
Co-skipper Jason Taumalolo was back on his best team through the middle, leading all players with 191 meters on 18 passes, while Jordan McLean dealt damage through the middle to finish with 124.
In the first half, a last-minute try would be one of two for the Dragons after a frenetic start at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Cowboys coach Todd Payten said he was looking for ball control on his part, but they coughed it up in their first two sets before the Dragons gave them field position with back-to-back restarts.
Taking advantage of the deep territory, Tom Dearden pushed Coen Hess through a hole before jumping to a heaving Scott Drinkwater to dive over it.
The Cowboys were then on the offensive again when Dearden forced a lunge on the goal line, with Drinkwater turning the provider on the resulting set and shoving into in-goal for Peta Hiku to take their second.
A penalty goal from Valentine Holmes made it 14-0 in the 22nd minute before the Dragons got their first real crack on the line, but Cody Ramsey’s effort was destroyed due to obstruction.
Moments later, the home side had their third goal after an agile pass from Taumalolo in midfield pushed Griffin Neame through a gap, who in turn found a supportive Robson to score against his former club.
Moses Suli’s attempt before halftime gave the Dragons some hope, but the Cowboys kept them at bay to secure the win.
In a blemish for the Cowboys, they lost young backrower Heilum Luki to a suspected ACL injury in the first half.
Posted † updated