The Northern Pride may have paid a heavy price for taking a further step towards a second straight Intrust Super Cup minor premiership with two major injuries to come out of their 22-18 defeat of Tweed Heads on Sunday.
Prop Alex Starmer and centre Javid Bowen both had to be stretchered off the ground in the opening 30 minutes of the top-of-the-table clash that puts the Pride within one win of securing the minor premiership with four rounds to play.
Starmer left the field in the 15th minute with a hamstring injury after he was twisted awkwardly while attempting to make a tackle while Bowen was left in extreme discomfort with rib cartilage injury suffered in the 30th minute.
It did little to slow the side's progress in front of a big home crowd as the match served as the curtain-raiser for the NRL Round 21 meeting of the Rabbitohs and the Knights but does give coach Jason Demetriou some unwelcome headaches a month out from the finals.
In other results from Round 22 PNG kept their finals hopes alive with a 32-22 win over Norths, Ipswich ended the title defence of Mackay with a 62-10 flogging in Ipswich, a Garrett Field hat-trick saw the Capras defeat Sunshine Coast 40-12, Wynnum Manly were too strong for Redcliffe, winning 44-10, and Easts moved into second spot with a 28-20 win over Souths Logan.
The Pride were minor premiers in 2013 before bowing out in straight sets to miss the grand final but Demetriou was full of praise for the way his side handled their first half setbacks.
"Lose three players with injury in the first half with one rotation in the second half it was always going to be tough hanging on but these boys did it last week as well in a similar situation. They just keep finding a way to turn up for each other so I'm super proud," Demetriou said.
"I think Alex has got a pretty bad hamstring tear and Javid has what looks like pretty severe rib cartilage damage so we're going to have to call on more troops but like we showed today, I thought Lincoln Port at fullback was outstanding. One of the young guys who has been waiting for his opportunity and there are a few more of those guys as well.
"He's played fullback for his local league club but not for us. He played on the wing last week and got thrown in at fullback in the second half and came up with some really important plays today."
Queensland Residents representative Davin Crampton shifted from lock to the centres prior to kick-off and starred with two tries and with the loss of Bowen, is likely to find himself back there again next week.
"His versatility is a blessing for us, especially in games like this where you're losing players," Demetriou said.
"To me his best position is 13 where he gets involved and he loves the physicality but like you see today, he intercepts the ball and runs 70 metres because he's got the pace to do that as well.
"I've been pressing Dav's claims for an NRL spot for a while now and he certainly wouldn't be out of place."
North Queensland Cowboys pair Ethan Lowe and Kyle Feldt were handy additions to the Pride side who had to do without fullback Hezron Murgha, Lincoln Port taking full advantage of his shift from the wing to the No.1 position to score the opening try in the fifth minute.
Three minutes later and courtesy of a bomb spilled by Seagulls fullback Jamal Fogarty the Pride were back on the attack, Queensland Residents representatives Shaun Nona and Davin Crampton combining on the left edge for Crampton to power over wide out. Nona's sideline conversion stretched the lead to 12-0 but just as it looked as though it would be one-way traffic, Tweed worked their way back into the game courtesy of a try to Ayden Lee in the 17th minute, who ran a nice line off a Michael Burgess pass 10 metres out to crash his way over.
Tweed were unable to make the most of a greater share of possession and when the Pride worked their way downfield again midway through the half Sam Obst ducked and darted his way through some feeble goal-line defence to extend the home side's lead to 12 heading into half-time.
Tweed went close to bridging the gap in the 46th minute when Lee tried to power over for his second but after consultation with the video referee was ruled to have been held up.
Tensions boiled over in the 51st minute when Tweed skipper Matt King, who a couple of tackles earlier had squared off against Pride winger Semi Tadulala, got into a tangle with opposite number Jason Roos, both No.9s dispatched to the sin bin for punching with Northern Pride awarded the penalty.
Crampton got his second try of the afternoon in the 53rd minute when he collected a stray kick from Tweed on the full and raced 70 metres to score untouched.
Co-captain James Wood had a golden opportunity to score in the 55th minute with a break down the left but one minute later the Seagulls got the try they desperately needed when Cory Blair ran a good outside-in line to split the Pride defence and reduce the deficit to 10 points with 22 minutes to play.
That margin became just four when Tweed forward Trent Richardson got a suspect offload away 20m out from the Pride line and found a bullocking Damian Sironen in support who was able to crash over under the posts despite the attention of Lincoln Port, Fogarty's successful conversion reducing the Pride's lead to 22-18 with 15 minutes to play.
Wood once again threatened to create something out of nothing down the left two minutes from full-time but as he poked through the line an offload inside went to ground, Fogarty ruled to have knocked on in attempting to bring it under control.
They had one last chance to snatch victory after the siren but a cross-field kick from Fogarty was knocked into touch by Feldt and the Pride inflicted the first loss on Tweed for 13 weeks.
Northern Pride 22 (Davin Crampton 2, Lincoln Port, Sam Obst tries; Shaun Nona 3 goals) def. Tweed Heads Seagulls 18 (Ayden Lee, Cory Blair, Damian Sironen tries; Jamal Fogarty 3 goals) at Barlow Park, Cairns.
For detailed results and the updated Intrust Super Cup ladder click here.