An 80-minute domination from Mitchell Pearce and the Sydney Roosters has sent shockwaves through an optimistic North Queensland after the visitors ran out 28-4 winners in Townsville on Saturday night.
The Roosters outworked a flat Cowboys side, with a lack of enterprise costing the home side throughout the match despite winning the possession battle and having a lion's share of the ball in the second half.
The Tricolours pack laid the platform for a Pearce masterclass as the halfback ran rampant in the first 40 minutes, putting on two try assists and controlling direction of attack in the 22-0 first half blitz.
"I thought we rolled the ruck well at different times. I thought we had some speed in the play-the-ball at different times, and then the boys kicked into some good positions off the back of that and then we took our chances. I thought it was some good execution on opportunities that we had," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said post-game.
In an error-riddled night for both sides, some flashy play from halves Pearce and James Maloney along with new fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck kept the scoreboard ticking over after bookends Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner worked the Cowboys into the ground up the middle.
"We are blessed to have such good players in our backline; me and Jimmy [Maloney] are pretty privileged to have guys outside us that we can feed the ball to – obviously Michael Jennings and now Fergo [Blake Ferguson] there, Shaun Kenny-Dowall... it's a blessed backline to be a part of," Pearce said.
The Cowboys gave their fans something to cheer about with a consolation try to recruit Justin O'Neill 10 minutes from time, but the damage was all done in the first 40 minutes.
But their lack of energy was on full display in the Roosters' only second-half try, with Maloney running the ball out of first receiver to beat a tired Ethan Lowe and send Cordner over for his second.
"We didn't tackle well tonight. We failed to build any sort of pressure," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"One of our first kicks, Robbie [Lui] kicks it dead, they get seven tackles [and] we spend the next 10 minutes defending our tryline."
After an initial feeling-out period the Roosters capitalised on their first attacking opportunity when a slick move finished with a superb Michael Jennings flick pass to Daniel Tupou for the season's first points.
While the home side – energised by hard running from new recruit Ben Hannant and lock Jason Taumalolo – were making metres of their own, the polish that was so evident in the pre-season was nowhere to be seen as the Cowboys found ball security tough in all areas of the park.
Some ad lib football resulted in North Queensland's first repeat set of the night soon after Tupou's try, yet the pressure valve was again released when Antonio Winterstein put down James Maloney's drop-out.
Michael Jennings was in for Sydney's second when Pearce slipped a sublime grubber through to the charging centre, while Pearce sent Aidan Guerra over with another deft kick – this time off the instep.
The hurt continued for North Queensland with the ensuing kickoff dragged out on the full by Michael Morgan, bringing about more time in the Cowboys red zone.
For every Sydney error coming out of the Cowboys' half, the home side matched it with sloppy efforts of their own in what Green lamented as a "good lesson on where good teams are and how tough they play."
Sydney Roosters 28 (Boyd Cordner 2, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Aidan Guerra tries; James Maloney 4 goals) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 4 (Justin O'Neill try) Crowd: 17,123.