The boot of Valentine Holmes and an overdue slice of luck earned interim Cowboys coach Josh Hannay his first NRL win against the Dragons after a "challenging" week.
North Queensland's star fullback booted an 84th-minute field goal to secure a 23-22 victory in golden-point at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, snapping a nine-match losing streak stretching back to June.
St George Illawarra were left to rue a lack of execution in Ben Hunt's 250th match, bombing several tries before Corey Norman's long-range one-point attempt went wide in their only extra-time set.
Hannay, whose bid to become North Queensland's future coach was unsuccessful with Todd Payten on Friday confirmed to take over, said his team got the rub of the green when it counted.
"Sometimes it's a bit of luck when it's that tight," he said.
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 17 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
"They charged down Val's first [field goal] attempt and that bounce goes our way. Another night that might just land in their hands."
Hannay didn't deny the fact he was disappointed about being rejected for a permanent head coaching gig.
"It was a challenging week to say the least. But it's our job to turn up every day. It's my job to coach, it's the players' job to play," he said.
Holmes, who Hannay described as "elite", scored a try while halves Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford were also instrumental.
Clifford, reclaiming the No.7 with Michael Morgan injured, finished a wonderful team try after half-time and Drinkwater produced two assists in his return to five-eighth.
Holmes! Sweet Holmes!
"I think sometimes [Clifford] has been a little bit guilty of playing within himself and it was nice to see him have a crack for want of a better term," Hannay said.
"As a spine, I thought those three created some opportunity for us."
Cowboys prop Francis Molo crashed under the posts in the eighth minute, encapsulating the theme of the opening exchanges as North Queensland outmuscled a sluggish St George Illawarra.
The visitors cruelled themselves with mistakes but eventually responded in the 25th minute - Norman made a bust off an Adam Clune inside pass to get on the front foot, then Hunt spun the ball to centre Euan Aitken who sold a dummy and crossed untouched.
A miraculous put-down from Dragons winger Mikaele Ravalawa, who had little room after centre Zac Lomax's flick pass, extended the lead.
Clune again unleashed Norman with an inside ball, but the No.6 perhaps had too many options with a try beckoning and only managed a wayward pass that hit Aitken's leg.
St George Illawarra didn't come away empty-handed, however, with Lomax landing a penalty goal to extend the half-time margin after Drinkwater was penalised for holding back Clune.
North Queensland couldn't have hoped for a better start to the second term. Clifford's bomb found open space, with the Steeden being promoted from Esan Marsters to Holmes to Feldt and back to Clifford
The halfback finished what he started with a leaping put-down. Mitch Dunn was offside from the kick but the NRL Bunker ruled he wasn't involved in the play despite pushing Dragons back-rower Jacob Host as he contested the bounce.
Freakish put down from Ravalawa gets Dragons into lead
Host was involved in the next try but this time favourably, powering to the in-goal area following a jinking run and assist by Clune to put St George Illawarra on top in the 46th minute.
Holmes got on the scoresheet when Drinkwater decided to run the ball on the last tackle, playing back to the middle and exposing some tired Dragons at close-range.
Lomax knocked over another penalty to make it 20-18, only for the Cowboys to pull ahead with 12 minutes left as Drinkwater linked with Feldt, who strolled in for his 14th try of 2020.
Norman made a massive play by taking speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow into touch just as he pinned the ears back. A penalty moments later allowed Lomax to lock the scores despite a tricky angle.
Clifford and Lomax missed field goals at the death before Norman did the same in overtime, paving the way for Holmes to step up for the decisive play.