A Benji Marshall masterclass and a Jason Nightingale hat-trick sealed a third straight win for St George Illawarra as they defeated the Cowboys 27-24 at Jubilee Oval.
Marshall was influential throughout the game with a hand in several tries, with fullback Adam Quinlan and five-eighth Gareth Widdop also shining in the victory in front of 12,082 fans.
The win came on an emotional night for the Dragons, who retired the No.3 jersey for the match as part of commemorations for the St George Immortal Reg Gasnier.
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Match stats, scores, highlights
While the Cowboys had 11 regular first-graders missing, including Origin representatives Johnathan Thurston and James Tamou, they played admirably and were unlucky not to take their first away win since Round 25, 2013.
In a positive for the club, North Queensland had four debutants in action, with youngsters Zac Santo, Sam Hoare and Ben Spina getting their first taste of the NRL while Tautau Moga made his club debut after signing with the club last Monday.
With the ink still wet on his contract Moga managed to impress North Queensland fans from the get-go by setting up his winger Antonio Winterstein for the first try of the evening in the fifth minute.
The Dragons hit back five minutes later through Charly Runciman, albeit from a questionable Gareth Widdop pass, with the winger crossing for his third try in just his fourth appearance of the season.
St George Illawarra swung it to the other side of the field after 15 minutes and it paid dividends when Quinlan managed to get a sneaky offload away on the run for a sprinting Nightingale to give them the lead for the first time of the evening.
Quinlan was amongst it again in the 26th minute with his own four-pointer. It came from a Benji Marshall banana kick from the right side of the field back towards the middle, as Quinlan raced from behind to receive the ball and score beside the uprights.
Winterstein crossed for his second try of the evening in the dying stages of the first stanza after a Michael Morgan pass sucked the Red V defence in. With a minute on the clock remaining, Nightingale was left clutching at thin air in no-man's land which left plenty of space for Winterstein to cross and take the scoreline to 14-10 come halftime.
The Cowboys kicked off the second half in the same fashion as the first with another early try. It came from a Robert Lui short ball to Tariq Sims, who bullocked through the Dragons defence to cross in the 45th minute, leaving Cowboys fans and Lui fist-pumping in delight.
The Cowboys went on to bomb a certain try soon after but maintained their composure to make a sure thing of their next opportunity in the 50th minute. It came from a backline movement down the right-hand side and ended up with Curtis Rona crossing with no-one in front of him for his sixth try of the season.
While Morgan went close to sealing the game for North Queensland only to bounce the ball over the tryline midway through the second half, the Dragons proceeded to make a game of it in the 58th minute through Nightingale.
The Dragons' fourth try came from the hands of Marshall again who brought Peter Mata'utia underneath him, a movement which allowed the centre to offload to a trailing Nightingale who easily accounted for the remaining 10 metres to score his second try of the night.
With seven minutes remaining Nightingale completed his hat-trick but it came from a mountain of work from his teammates. A huge run from Gerard Beale from his own 10-metre line put the Dragons in good territory and three tackles later, Marshall again initiated a backline movement that found Nightingale out wide.
Widdop smacked over a field goal to seal the game for his team with four minutes remaining while a late Jason Taumalolo try made the difference three points.
Dragons 27 (Nightingale 3, Runciman, Quinlan Tries; Widdop 2 Goals; Widdop Field Goal) defeated Cowboys 24 (Winterstein 2, Sims, Rona, Taumalolo Tries; Lowe 2 Goals) at Jubilee Oval. Crowd: 12,082.