Two sides from the wrong end of the fledgling table, the North Queensland Cowboys (14th) and St George Illawarra Dragons (11th) looked to get their season started by registering their first win as they met in Townsville.
Both coaches made a single change from last weeks losing sides, the Dragons had Corey Norman in for Clune while the Cowboys had Lachlan Burr in their seventeen, replacing Taumalolo.
The bookies went for home advantage in making the Cowboys slight favourites to pick up the win but with just seven points between the sides on the aggregate scores in 2020, there was very little to choose between them.
It was a sensational start for the Cowboys Jake Clifford kick picked out of the air by Coen Hess as the Dragons defence stood aside and let second rower take the ball and drop over the line. Valentine Holmes added the extras for a 6-0 lead after four minutes.
On eight minutes Mitch Dunn pushed his way to the line and appeared to score but referee Cummins sent to the decision to the bunker who ruled out the effort.
Rather than take a twelve-point lead it was the Dragons who scored next when Mikaele Ravalawa took a looping Ben Hunt pass to go over in the corner despite the attention of three Cowboys tacklers. Zac Lomax converted from the touchline to level the scores.
There were plenty of mistakes from both sides, both lacking confidence with the ball in hand.
The Dragons hit the front on twenty-eight thanks to a battering ram try from Andrew McCullough as the Cowboys defence couldn’t hold the big forward from five metres out. Lomax added the extras and from looking like they’d be twelve behind inside the first eight minutes, they were 12-6 to the good.
A thirty-eight metre field goal from Corey Norman on the final hooter extended the lead to seven points at the interval, but there was little to choose between the two sides.
Seven minutes after the restart, Holmes got the Cowboys right back into the game after taking a flick pass from Corey Jensen and stepping off the right foot to go under the sticks. The North Queensland winger added the conversion and the Dragons lead was back to a single point.
The Dragons answered on fifty-three with a ten metre Ben Hunt solo run from a standing start, dragging Hess over the line with him in scoring. Lomax smacked the conversion between the uprights for 19-12.
It was end to end stuff, and four minutes later Jake Granville scooted from acting-half to outpace a sleeping Dragons defence for the Cowboys third of the night from five metres out. Holmes added the conversion and once again it was a one-point game at 18-19.
In the ongoing tit-for-tat Lomax rose above the Cowboys defence to take a Hunt high kick to the corner and drop to the ground for a four-pointer. Lomax shaved the far upright, but the ball went through the target for 25-18.
Monumental Cowboys defence forced back-to-back-to-back dropouts from the Dragons but after weathering the intense storm the Dragons finally brought the ball away from their own line. Most of the pressure in the last ten minutes came from the Cowboys but they couldn’t find a way over the line and the Dragons held on for the win.
It was an entertaining, if somewhat scruffy, encounter between two sides who are unlikely to figure in the big games at the end of the season. It was the Dragons who opened their account and left the Cowboys at the bottom of the table, just above the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles.
North Queensland Cowboys: Drinkwater, Feldt, Marsters, Tabuai-Fidow, Holmes (T, 3G), Morgan, Clifford, Molo, Robson, McLean, Dunn, Hess (T), Cotter. Subs: Granville (T), McGuire, Jensen, Burr.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Dufty, Ramsey, Bird, Lomax (T, 4G), Ravalawa (T), Norman (DG), Hunt (T), Lawrie, McCullough (T), Vaughan, Kerr, Sims, Fuimaono. Subs: Faamausili, Merrin, Alvaro, Wiliame.
Referee: Ben Cummins.