An Origin-depleted Cowboys gave it their all, and there were plenty of positives, but it was all too much in the end with the Dragons – including Origin hopeful Tyson Frizell – able to edge out victory 14-10 at WIN Stadium on Saturday night.
Dragons do enough
It wasn't pretty but it was enough. Led by skipper Gareth Widdop around the paddock the Dragons looked freer in their attack yet failed to capitalise with opportunities staring them in the face.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor said he wasn't comfortable at any moment in the second half with the Cowboys able to draw level at 10-all early on in the final 40.
McGregor did identify an occurrence just prior to Euan Aitken's 63rd-minute match-winner however as the momentum-turner for the Red V.
"[The Cowboys] had a lot of possession in our 20 and we didn't have any field position at all. Their kicking game was spot on and put us under a lot of pressure," McGregor said of his discomfort.
"They couldn't have done much more but I suppose the changing point in the game was where [Lachlan Coote] failed to find touch [from a penalty in their end]. We scored off that next set. I think the momentum shifted a little bit that way to us."
Hughes disappoints nobody in NRL return
Cowboys fullback Jahrome Hughes was able to run out for his second first grade game a whole three years after his NRL debut for the Titans.
The 21-year-old certainly didn't let anyone down either with his try, six tackle busts and 142 metres a good look for his resume.
"He's played one game before as a kid but he was not at all overawed by the moment," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"He was outstanding. He had some really good involvements, scored a great individual try where he broke four tackles and I thought he did a great job for us."
Frizell responds well to Origin dumping
72 hours after being told he wouldn't be making his State of Origin debut on June 1, Tyson Frizell just kept on keeping on against the Cowboys.
Frizell has found his niche in the Red V engine room, able to find plenty of peace as both an edge back-rower and a middle player.
While he won't be making his Origin debut in Game One, McGregor suspected it won't be long until he dons the sky blue jersey.
"He was outstanding. Going forward, he's going to become a better player. He's really gaining us game speed through that middle-third of the field when he gets switched," McGregor said.
"I'm excited to see his future grow and to be where he is, he'll get a chance in the near future."
Ill-disciplined front row hurts Cowboys
In a time of need for the Cowboys it would be their more experienced players who would let them down at crucial moments.
The Dragons were able to race out to a 10-0 lead early on thanks hugely to the ill-discipline of the Cowboys' front row – who were to blame for six of the Cowboys' eight penalties.
The early indiscretions of Scott Bolton and Jake Granville namely won't be looked back on fondly considering they are players the Cowboys lean on at this point in the season.
Spare a thought for Josh McCrone
"Winter is coming" is fun to say when applicable, but in Wollongong on Saturday night winter well and truly arrived.
The Cowboys and Dragons played in 12 degree temperatures with everyone being able warm themselves in the heat of the battle.
Everyone except for Josh McCrone. The veteran utility sat idly by on the sideline for the entire game and was left waiting for a call that never came.