Valentine Holmes came through unscathed after his first appearance for North Queensland as a Reuben Cotter double gave the Cowboys an 18-16 win over Brisbane at a rain-soaked Barlow Park in Cairns.
Holmes played less than 30 minutes in his first rugby league match since 2018 but was clinical in defence.
The Cowboys had to work hard to beat a strong Broncos line-up and it was rookie hooker Cotter who stood tall late in the game, scoring two second-half tries to give his side the edge in another thrilling contest between the two sides.
There was little between the Queensland rivals all night but the Cowboys had more polish with the ball when it mattered.
The Broncos led 10-4 at the break courtesy of two tries to centre Jesse before emerging Cowboys prop Emery Pere squared it up early in the second half.
Brisbane found the lead again on the back of a big run from winger Herbie Farnworth, who made a break down the left edge before dishing it off to Anthony Milford, who crossedto put the Broncos up 16-10.
Match: Cowboys v Broncos
Round 2 -
Venue: Barlow Park, Cairns
With 13 minutes left, Cotter hit back for the Cowboys, bridging the gap to two points. He then darted over late as the Broncos defence tired in the muddy conditions.
Both coaches would walk away largely satisfied, with no major injuries to report.
The Broncos halves combination of Milford and Brodie Croft was impressive at times, while Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo was red hot in the opening 20 minutes before retiring to the bench.
North Queensland started the match strongly on the back of a third-minute try from recruit Connelly Lemuelu, who picked the ball up cleanly to cross on the left wing.
Clifford missed the conversion from the sideline and North Queensland held the lead for seven minutes before Arthars scored the first of his two tries.
In the driving rain, the match turned into an arm wrestle as both coaches called for better defensive efforts.
Holmes impressed at fullback, cleaning up several times in slippery conditions, including a tricky bomb from Milford.
The Broncos were led by Payne Haas, who proved to be an excitement machine with a number of big runs through the middle.
Haas' line break late in the opening half paved the way for Arthars to score his second try, which was converted by Kotoni Staggs.
The Broncos appear more settled in the halves, with Milford and Croft combining well.
Croft, who signed with Brisbane after four seasons with the Storm, was impressive with his kicking game.
Scott Drinkwater appears to be the front-runner to partner Michael Morgan in the Cowboys halves when the two sides meet again in round one of the NRL season at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
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