Cowboys rally to beat Raiders
They still cannot string 80 minutes together, but when they do North Queensland will be the most unstoppable force in the NRL.
Down 18-4 at half time and engaged for all of 40 minutes, the Cowboys – like clockwork – flicked a switch at half time and made it a hatchet job, dispatching the Canberra Raiders 32-24.
After a quiet first half in which he ran for 47 metres, 200-gamer Matt Scott put in a monster second stint to emerge the star of North Queensland's pack once more, with 163 metres and 28 tackles.
While Canberra sported Hulk jerseys as part of the NRL's Marvel Superhero round, the game's two beasts were wearing blue and grey, with veteran interchange Ben Hannant going 158 metres on 14 carries.
In front of a nervous 16, 207, the Raiders were irresistible for the first 40 minutes while the Cowboys were mired in monotony.
Coach Paul Green has been preaching sticking to structures all season, yet the same movements were failing time after time for the home side.
After Michael Morgan forced a repeat set with a perfectly weighted long-range chip kick on North Queensland's very first possession, things went south fast.
Minutes later Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson stepped out of dummy half to boot a 40/20, and while points didn't come immediately, the Raiders had the home side under the pump.
Brushing off Cowboys winger Matthew Wright on a left-side shift, star-in-the-making Jack Wighton dunked over the game's first points 12 minutes in.
Wighton had his hands all over Canberra's second of the night, picking out try-scoring machine Edrick Lee on a Thurston-esque cutout ball.
They made it three tries in eight minutes after yet another Wighton stroke of genius – tapping back a Sam Williams kick to Sia Soliola to reach through an Ethan Lowe tackle to score.
The Cowboys' halfback meanwhile was having his toughest 40 minutes of the year, registering three errors and staying down on two separate instances.
Lachlan Coote kicked it out on the full and knocked on a swirling Blake Austin bomb, Ben Hannant couldn't reel in a Coote inside ball on the fringe and Jake Granville spilled his lollies taking on the Raiders defence – all featuring in a horror first half of 8-16 completions.
Canberra slotted a penalty goal right in front before the Cowboys finally found some points when Sam Williams let Morgan scoot to his outside for his 10th try of the year.
And that was the kick North Queensland needed.
Austin was booked for a trip on Justin O'Neill en route to a try, but that was the last form of resistance Canberra gave for the remainder of the contest.
After chipping away at the left edge all game, Thurston finally found Gavin Cooper some space for points.
The visitors were clearly rattled when, less than 10 minutes later, veteran bookend David Shillington forced an offload early in the tackle count only for the ball to go to ground and Antonio Winterstein ran away for another four-pointer.
Down two and sniffing another try, the Cowboys picked on Shillington who became a turnstile for Scott Bolton, linking with Thurston who found a gap where there simply was none, sneaking a ball through to Jake Granville to score under the sticks.
North Queensland kept riding the wave and after a copybook left-side shift with two block runners, the ball went through hands for Winterstein's second.
Thurston made it a three-possession game with 69th and 76th minute penalty goals, but Kurt Baptiste had the last say with an easy 80th minute try out of dummy half.
The win makes it 15 from the Cowboys' last 16 games, with a trip to Cronulla the next challenge.
Meanwhile the Raiders let slip a golden opportunity to overtake the Warriors in 8th.
North Queensland Cowboys 32 (Antonio Winterstein 2, Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper, Jake Granville tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) def Canberra Raiders 24 (Jack Wighton, Edrick Lee, Sia Soliola, Kurt Baptiste tries; Jarrod Croker 4 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 16, 207. Half-time: Cowboys 10-4. On Report: Edrick Lee (Canberra, 43rd minute)