Cowboys prop Matt Scott.

There were nervous moments in the second half but North Queensland coach Paul Green says he saw the spirit of old return in the Cowboys side during the 26-20 win over the Panthers on Friday night.

Languishing in equal last going into round nine, Green's men were desperate for a victory. A 2-6 record was threatening to derail Johnathan Thurston's farewell season in Townsville.

After a lacklustre performance against Canberra on home turf last week, it took two days of travel to Bathurst and a day's preparation leading into the game to spark the side.

"There was a noticeable improvement in terms of the old Cowboys spirit was back," Green said.

"Blokes were fighting hard ... it looked ugly but they were turning up, whereas in previous weeks we had gone into our shells a bit and hadn't turned up for ourselves.

"It's not because we don't care or have issues, but when you're lacking a bit of confidence you need some spark and it happened tonight.

"There were a lot of pleasing things, just seeing them stick together. I saw a little bit of that spirit that we've lacked a bit."

Penrith have had no issues coming back from a deficit in 2018, and sent a scare through the Cowboys camp midway through the second half when they narrowed the lead to four points.

But Green maintained he had confidence the momentum would swing back in their favour under the guidance of Thurston, who scored the decisive try and kicked a penalty goal in the final stages of the contest.

"The Panthers had all the momentum at that stage but I was pretty comfortable throughout the game. I thought we did a good job on their big guys even when we did have 12 men," Green said.

"A couple of times we just had a lapse and that would snowball but generally speaking I thought we all worked hard for each other."

After a gruelling travel week that included three flights and a bus trip to Bathurst, the Cowboys will return to Sydney and spend the next six days in camp before their round 10 clash against the Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval.

"It's been a tough trip for us to get here," Green said.

"We really enjoy coming out into the country and putting on a display and the locals appreciate it as well.

"So we felt it's best prep for the team and a good opportunity – it will turn into a blessing in disguise and we can spend some time together as a group. Getting the win tonight was huge for that."