Johnathan Thurston has made a successful return, setting up a try in his trademark entertaining fashion, but his North Queensland Cowboys went down 30-16 to the Wests Tigers at Barlow Park in Cairns.
The early-season rust was clear for both sides in a match that was delayed for more than 45 minutes after a blackout struck Cairns following a storm in the tropics.
After the lights were turned on, poor discipline from North Queensland gave the Tigers an easy out in the form of a penalty inside their own 10 metres, which they used to march up the field.
They made good use of the field position when they sucked in three defenders before offloading to find winger Corey Thompson unmarked, who posted first points of the night.
Play continued to go the way of the fast-starting Tigers, as the Cowboys struggled to execute successfully despite stringing some quick play-the-balls together.
Thurston had some rust of his own, with a poor pass finding the hands of Tigers speedster Malakai Watane Zelezniak, who streaked away to score the visiting team’s second try of the night.
With half-time less than a minute away, the Tigers were looking to make it three tries to nil going into the break, but Thurston had other ideas.
The veteran co-captain found himself in the face of the attackers when the ball went to ground, allowing him to kick it through to find himself in open space, chasing the ball towards his try-line. Another kick allowed the halfback to regather the ball, before offloading to Coen Hess, who went over the line unchallenged. Ethan Lowe failed to convert, leaving the half-time score at 10-4 in favour of the Tigers.
The visitors again got off to a fast start in the second half, bouncing back off a kick going dead and capitalising with a try as Tyson Gamble crashed through the line. He was followed soon after by Taane Milne, who caught the defence napping and virtually strolled over in the corner, quickly stretching the score out to 18-4.
Thompson broke through soft defence with a strong run only minutes later to post his second try of the night.
As the game progressed into its final quarter the Cowboys began to stiffen up in defence and they were rewarded in attack. A repeat set off a Tigers error gave the home side prime position, and Jake Clifford didn't waste time slicing through the line at close range to score.
The pace of the game slowed down as the rain began to pour in the final 10 minutes. The Cowboys looked to take the final try with three minutes to go, as John Asiata crashed over in the slippery conditions to score. With less than a minute to go David Noufoluma pounced on a Cowboys error off the kick-off, scoring and bringing the final score to 30-16.