The Cowboys have recorded back-to-back victories with a decisive 30-10 victory over Penrith at Pepper Stadium on Easter Monday.
Panthers v Cowboys: Five key points
It's not all beer and skittles: Cleary
We've turned the corner: Thurston
A red hot Johnathan Thurston – as well as hat trick hero Matthew Wright – made full use of a dominant forward pack, the Cowboys skipper playing a hand in all five of his side's tries and almost single-handedly consigning the Panthers to their third straight loss to knock them out of the top eight.
But the home side was left to rue three crucial overturns from the men upstairs – all in favour of North Queensland.
The first came when the scores were locked 6-all in the 22nd minute, when Ashley Klein and Henry Perenara had found sufficient evidence to rule that Lachlan Coote had legally grounded a Thurston dink with his torso.
The second came when Matt Moylan was awarded a try from a set play in the 35th minute, only to be denied his Easter chocolates after numerous replays and adjudged to been held up.
The call proved to be a crucial turning point – an eight-point turnaround, in fact – when the Cowboys extended their lead in the next set.
A Tyrone Peachey charge down was cleaned up by Thurston on his own 20m line, who then waited for the six-again call before bursting 50 metres into the backfield. The Cowboys immediately spread right on the next play, where Wright found more vacant space to bag his second.
The final over-rule also came at a vital junction in the match.
Having just reduced the deficit to two tries when Moylan put Dean Whare through on a right side shift in the 52nd minute, the Panthers looked to have gained momentum when Josh Mansour was given a try from dummy half on the hour mark.
But again the decision was overturned in the box, and Thurston sealed the win not long after with a 70th minute penalty goal from close range.
Penrith were rewarded for their fast start when hooker James Segeyaro fooled Gavin Cooper with a trademark dummy close to the line to dive over in the 7th minute.
But through the strength of their middle, the Cowboys immediately powered their way back into the contest and levelled the scores through a signature Thurston cut-out that put Tautau Moga into space and ended in Wright crossing for his first.
Wright's second before halftime and a four-pointer to Ethan Lowe – again off a Thurston special – after the break pushed their lead out to a commanding 22-10 lead.
The home side fought back to get within 12 points, however more magic from Thurston – he threw another cut-out to complete Wright's hat trick in the 74th minute – ensured the visitors have well and truly bounced back from their early season slump.
North Queensland 30 (Matthew Wright 2, Lachlan Coote, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals) Defeated Penrith 10 (James Segeyaro, Dean Whare tries; Matt Moylan goal). Crowd: 8,409. Halftime: 16-6.