Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
It took the best part of half an hour, but the Cowboys found their mojo to comfortably bury the visiting Gold Coast Titans 28-8 in front of almost 15,000 vocal fans.
It was the old firm of Thurston and returning veterans Matt Scott and Gavin Cooper who proved too creative for a Titans side that jumped the Cowboys early, but whose work was dispelled in a matter of five minutes as the first half came to a close.
Along with the usual names, destructive edge-runner Jason Taumalolo was at his bullish best, making half breaks every carry, reminiscent of opposite Dave Taylor through the past two weeks.
Officials looked to set the tone early in the contest, giving both defences a lot of leeway in the ruck, giving neither team any attacking rhythm.
The Titans handed the home side the game's first sniff when halfback Daniel Mortimer sent the Steeden sailing over the right touchline in a simple kick for touch. But the combination of poor patience and stout goal-line defence from the visitors prevented first points.
A regulation leave from Cowboys fullback Michael Morgan almost turned sour when Titans flyer James Roberts burned a path to a perfectly weighted Brad Takarangi chip kick, but replays showed Morgan had just managed a toe to the force the ball dead.
That was one of four consecutive attacking sets the Cowboys had repelled on their own goal line, and the pressure valve was eventually relieved by a Paul Carter knock-on.
The tempo was starting to rise and the home side looked to have troubled the scorers on the back of some keep-off play between halves Lui and Thurston up the middle. The ensuing break was finished in the in-goal by Taumalolo but referees reversed their on-field decision, explaining that they had called 'help-up' before Taumalolo touched the ball down.
Both teams continued wasting opportunities until the ill-disciplined Cowboys gave away one too many ruck penalties, leaving Titans goal-kicker Kevin Gordon to open the account with a penalty goal.
That proved the impetus for a golden patch for the Coasters. A clocked-off Cowboys defence was caught napping on the try line own goal line when a flatfooted Takairangi received a pass from Beau Faloon. A series of left-foot steps beat both Sims brothers, Morgan and prop Scott Bolton for the softest of tries, edging the visitors ahead 8-0 after the conversion.
That proved the wake-up call the Cowboys needed. A fortuitous restart found Takairangi on the back foot while falling out behind the dead ball line, before throwing a panicked pass to Luke Bailey. Bailey was ruled to have jumped from behind the dead ball line before taking the pass, resulting in a Cowboys penalty.
They failed to score immediately, but pinned the Titans in their own end in the following set and then got their first four-pointer. Morgan followed a perfectly-weighted Thurston grubber, beating David Mead to the punch and planting it down, with a try awarded after almost five minutes of referee deliberations.
That was all the fuel North Queensland needed and they were soon back looking like superheroes. Thurston's chemistry with Gavin Cooper was on show in the second-rower's first game back as he hit a hole at pace off a Thurston short ball and ran 50 metres to score under the sticks.
After destructive first halves, both Taumalolo and Scott picked up where they left off in the second, dragging multiple defenders through the middle of the ruck. That aggression served as a precursor for what was to come.
The home side was rewarded for its work through the middle third when Mead made a meal of a Thurston chip bomb, resulting in a pile of bodies that had the men upstairs working overtime to break down the pile of players around the football. Replays showed in the end that Mead had lost it through his legs, allowing Thurston to touch down.
North Queensland effectively put the game to bed 25 minutes out from full time when Tautau Moga scored off another haphazard fallout from a Thurston kick.
A fracas eventuated with 20 minutes left when Paul Carter hit a dummy-running Ashton Sims, bringing about an all-out brawl and long talking-to's from referee Jared Maxwell. But it wasn't over, with Falloon picking up and dumping Lui behind the play before more jaw massages played out between Sims and Carter. Feelings were eventually quelled after good management from Maxwell, but not before Takairangi went off after some chin music from Glenn Hall.
Five minutes later, the cherry was put on top by Kane Linnett who had very little to do after great work from his inside men Lui and Thurston.
Cowboys 28 (Morgan, Cooper, Thurston, Moga, Linnett tries; Thurston 4 goals) defeated Titans 8 (Takairangi try; Gordon 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 14,487.