It wasn't pretty but St George Illawarra Dragons' 14-10 win over an Origin-depleted North Queensland Cowboys outfit was enough to keep the Wollongong faithful pleased on Saturday night.
Two tries in the first 14 minutes – thanks largely to North Queensland's ill-discipline – set up the Dragons' win against a Cowboys outfit missing linchpins Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Matt Scott.
Playing at five-eighth, Lachlan Coote attempted to steer the ship without the usual halves at the helm and was quite unlucky not to have set up a match-winner at the death with his accurate kicking.
The Dragons were missing Josh Dugan themselves to Origin duty but made the most of their opportunities through fullback replacement Jason Nightingale earlier on in the contest.
Nightingale had the ball rolling for the Dragons within five minutes when he produced a Dugan-style power play to cross the white stripe and score.
The Cowboys looked to have equalled the ledger in the 10th minute when Javid Bowen scooped up a Tyson Frizell mistake and raced 60 metres. But the bunker had the final say by ruling Coote had raked the ball from the St George Illawarra back-rower.
Four minutes later the Dragons extended their lead to 10 when a razzle-dazzle run around play by Tim Lafai and Gareth Widdop ended in the hands of try-scorer Kurt Mann.
Kyle Feldt's spectacular finish in the 37th minute handed North Queensland some relief at half-time when he latched on to a Coote cross-field kick for his eighth try of the season.
Jahrome Hughes – in his first NRL game in three years – helped even things back up in the 47th minute by beating four Dragons to score the first try of the second stanza.
It may have taken until the 63rd minute but the Dragons stood tall again when quick hands from halves Widdop and Benji Marshall left Euan Aitken one-on-one with Bowen – who he promptly palmed off to score – and help the Red V keep in touch with the top eight.
St George Illawarra Dragons 14 (Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann, Euan Aitken tries; Gareth Widdop goal) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 10 (Kyle Feldt, Jahrome Hughes tries; Ethan Lowe goal) at WIN Stadium. Crowd: 10,032. Half-time: Dragons 10-4.