North Queensland have leapfrogged the Bulldogs into the top four following their 24-16 win at Belmore Sports Ground on Thursday night.
While both sides are tied on 32 competition points on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, the Cowboys' superior differential (now +213) has them in the box seat to earn a second chance in the finals in a fortnight's time.
Ex-Bulldog and Cowboys' co-captain Johnathan Thurston was the chief destroyer for the reigning premiers while back-rower Ethan Lowe came away with two tries.
Sensationally the Bulldogs fell to their third-straight loss at their spiritual home.
Thurston had the game's first points within three minutes with a penalty goal but it was Bulldogs back-rower Greg Eastwood who'd leave the Belmore faithful in raptures in the 10th minute.
Not only did Eastwood intercept a Michael Morgan pass from 60 metres out, but he was also able to outlast the pursuing Lachlan Coote and Thurston to score one of the slowest runaway tries in history.
Cowboys counterpart Lowe pegged one back in the 19th minute when a simple ball from Morgan was misread by Bulldogs halfback Moses Mbye in defence.
North Queensland should've extended their lead late in the first half following six sets on their opponents' try-line but were constantly turned away by desperate Bulldogs defence intent on keeping the deficit to two at half-time.
While Bulldogs veteran Aiden Tolman was denied a four-pointer after half-time, it'd be Thurston who'd weave his magic to kick start the Cowboys' second half.
Thurston produced a vintage show-and-go to bamboozle Bulldogs defenders Danny Fualalo and Tony Williams before drawing in fullback Will Hopoate to send teammate Lowe over for his second try in the 50th minute.
Coen Hess's efforts past Williams again in the 62nd minute extended the Cowboys' lead to 14.
Curtis Rona's try with five minutes remaining offered the Bulldogs a glimmer of hope, but an error from the pursuing set saw Jason Taumalolo seal the Cowboys' win in the 77th minute.
Eastwood's consolation try – his second of the match - in the final 40 seconds wouldn't soften the blow for the Bulldogs' faithful.
North Queensland Cowboys 24 (Ethan Lowe 2, Coen Hess, Jason Taumalolo tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (Greg Eastwood 2, Curtis Rona tries; Kerrod Holland 2 goals) at Belmore Sportsground. Crowd: 10,144. Half-time: Cowboys 6-4.