An attacking masterclass saw the Cowboys romp to a 50-16 victory over an awful Warriors side on Saturday night, but it was a win which may prove costly in their quest for premiership glory.
While the result – which ended a two-game losing streak for North Queensland – keeps their hopes of a maiden minor premiership alive, a neck injury to James Tamou and a lower leg injury to Michael Morgan will be of major concern to coach Paul Green.
Scans on Sunday will give an indication on how long Morgan may miss, while Tamou was admitted to hospital in Auckland as a precaution but was expected to travel home with his teammates.
The win temporarily at least bumped the Cowboys back up to equal-first on the Telstra Premiership ladder, while the result officially ends the finals hopes of the Warriors.
It had all started so well for the Kiwi side at Mount Smart Stadium, taking a 16-0 lead after just 13 minutes.
A piece of individual brilliance from Tuimoala Lolohea saw him step three defenders and fend off another, before converting his own try.
Moments later debutant half Mason Lino for grubbered for Ken Maumalo to score his first NRL try, while Lolohea was at it again three minutes later, stepping through the Cowboys' line and running 30 metres before dribbling a ball through for Dominique Peyroux to score out wide.
The Warriors were looking almost unstoppable.
But after play stopped for close to 10 minutes in order to tend to Tamou, the Warriors seemed to fall apart.
Just minutes after play resumed the Cowboys made the first of what would turn out to be several successful trips to the Warriors' left edge, scoring via late call-up Kyle Feldt at the end of a move which featured classy touches from Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston.
Thurston converted to make it 16-6, before scoring and converting a try of his own four minutes later.
Losing Morgan on 28 minutes did nothing to slow North Queensland's momentum, scoring through Feldt again off a near carbon copy of his earlier effort.
When Maumalo spilt a dribbling ball in front of his own posts without an opposing player in sight, you could almost feel any remaining air disappear from the Warriors, and it took only seconds for them to leak another try as Justin O'Neill made the most of a sliding defensive line to score in the final minute of the half.
A fourth conversion from Thurston made it 24-16 at the break.
A pair of first career tries came early in the second period for the visitors, as big bopper Ben Spina picked up some scraps to cross out wide, before Coen Hess – playing his first ever NRL game – ran a great line off a short ball to power over.
At 34-16 the Cowboys were cruising, and with more than 15 minutes remaining in the game Feldt crashed over to complete his hat-trick.
Tries to centres Kane Linnett and O'Neill – who collected his double at the expense of the terrible Warriors' left edge – finished off the scoring blitz for the Cowboys, before they endured a hear-in-mouth moment when Thurston temporarily stayed down following a hard hit in the ribs from Solomone Kata.
If the result wasn't enough pain, the Warriors also look set to be without Jacob Lillyman for the remainder of the year, after the prop left the field with a suspected cheekbone injury sustained in the first minute.
Cowboys 50 (Kyle Feldt 3, Justin O'Neill 2, Johnathan Thurston, Ben Spina, Coen Hess, Kane Linnett tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Tuimoala Lolohea, Ken Maumalo, Dominique Peyroux tries; Lolohea 2 goals) at Mount Smart Stadium. Half-time: Cowboys 24-16. Crowd: 14,412.