It was one of the tightest grinds of the year over the first 50 minutes, but the Dragons ran out of puff on Saturday evening, opening the floodgates for a late Cowboys try-fest in a 36-0 drubbing.
In front of a season-best 17,444 crowd the Cowboys were given all they could handle early by the typically plucky Dragons, who seemed to drag the usually sparkling Cowboys' attack down to their level.
But after an extended feeling-out period it was Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote (two try assists, two line-break assists) setting up the huge win with a second-half masterclass.
The Cowboys pressed early, forcing three repeat sets in the Dragons' red zone, but the defensive wall stood firm early on before the contest degenerated into a scoreless error fest.
While it was still end-to-end, the visitors' lack of execution when points were on offer combined with simple errors from Cowboys Matt Scott and Ethan Lowe released pressure far too easily.
Dragons halfback Benji Marshall had a forgettable moment trying to re-live the good old days with a skipping venture from the right side of the field to the left with dummies, jinks and jives before being driven over the touchline by multiple Cowboys after poking his head through the line.
It took 25 minutes for points to be scored – Gavin Cooper burying under the marker defence off a long-range dig out of dummy-half.
Fans were primed for a quick half-time nap before Cowboys maestro Johnathan Thurston whipped them into a frenzy, booting through an ad-lib kick on the fourth tackle in the final set of the half.
With Jason Nightingale out of position on the left wing, a quick-thinking Thurston bounced a hard grubber right into the path of Kyle Feldt who finished with class to draw a curtain on the first 40 minutes.
Both teams were firmly entrenched in the grind early in the second half before the Cowboys found Scott Bolton crashing over close to the line right next to the sticks.
Meanwhile, Dragons centre Euan Aitken threw a forward pass in their most enterprising play of the night and Lachlan Coote booted a 40/20 to further punish his rumoured suiters.
The killer blow was inflicted by none other than rookie Javid Bowen, who crashed over off a copybook Coote offload.
The Dragons looked ready for their first points after an hour, but Peter Mata'utia blew the best chance of the night off slick backline movement, knocking it on while reaching over to score.
Right-side outside backs Kyle Feldt and Justin O'Neill put a cap on the night for the Cowboys, with both scoring off kicks – Feldt picking up the scraps and O'Neill plucking a simple Thurston chip kick across the face of goal to end the night with a 36-point rout.
North Queensland Cowboys 36 (Kyle Feldt 2, Gavin Cooper, Scott Bolton, Javid Bowen, Justin O'Neill tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) def. St George Illawarra Dragons 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Cowboys 12-0. Crowd: 17,444. Holden Cup: Cowboys 38-18.