The experience of Michael Morgan and the rampaging runs of Jason Taumalolo proved the difference as the Cowboys opened their 2019 campaign with a 24-12 win over the Dragons in Townsville.
It was the perfect start to the post-Johnathan Thurston era, with the North Queensland legend looking on from the grandstand and smiling broadly during the five tries-to-two victory.
Morgan, playing in the No.7 jersey worn with distinction by Thurston, took control to set up four tries and score one himself, in his first game as Cowboys captain.
The pack, tagged by Maroons legend Paul Vautin recently as one of the best in the club's history, fired from the get-go with Taumalolo, Matt Scott, Coen Hess, Jordan McLean and new recruit Josh McGuire all on song.
The quality of football and possession was shared evenly by both teams on a hot and humid Townsville evening. The Dragons, through repeat sets, showed signs of crossing over and had their chance in the sixth minute but Justin O'Neill denied Mikaele Ravalawa with a super cover tackle.
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 1 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
The Cowboys turned defence into attack with a Morgan kick in the seventh minute but they were unable to capitalise due to a McGuire knock on, coughing up the ball in the middle of the park.
McGuire, who was promoted to the starting side by Paul Green an hour before kick-off, looked a little rusty early but blossomed as the game went on.
Corey Norman’s boot looked below average at times, with a kick to the corner in the ninth minute failing to find touch. But his attack shone when just moments later he found space off the back of an error from Jordan Kahu.
That led to Euan Aitken scoring in the 12th minute to post the Dragons' first points. Gareth Widdop added the extras to make it 6-0.
Just when it looked like the Dragons had found some form, Widdop fumbled a Morgan high ball in the 15th minute after a great one-on-one shot from O’Neill.
Cowboys centre Tom Opacic had a chance to score in the 27th minute, but came centimetres short after Widdop brought him down. It became evident that last-play attacking options on a number of occasions cruelled the Cowboys chances of points.
Taumololo then stepped up and began showing his moments of brilliance. He made a break in the 31st minute which set up a try for Javid Bowen off the back of some fine work from Morgan and O’Neill.
In total Taumalolo's match figures included 21 hit-ups for 286 metres in just 64 minutes, 93 post contact metres and two line breaks.
Taumalolo being Taumalolo
A try to former Dragon Nene Macdonald on the stroke of halftime gave the Cowboys an 8-6 lead at the break.
The home side defended their line grimly early in the second half and a crucial moment came in the 43rd minute when Blake Lawrie took a quick tap for the Dragons and surged across the line but was held up by a Kahu trysaver..
The Cowboys were then able to pick up repeat sets themselves with Morgan scoring out wide off a quick pass from John Asiata in the 57th minute.
Te Maire Martin crossed in the 67th minute after great lead-up work by Taumalolo.
The rain continued for the majority of the second half and made conditions slippery, with a number of ball handling errors creeping in from both teams.
But that didn’t stop the Cowboys from finding the line in the 75th minute through a Morgan grubber for O’Neill. Kahu converted to make it 24-6.
The Dragons grabbed a consolation try in the corner from Jordan Pereira.