Cowboys hold out South Sydney in Townsville
There's no place like home for North Queensland who edged out South Sydney 20-18 in an NRL thriller in Townsville on Saturday night.
And the loss could prove costly for both the Rabbitohs and Queensland ahead of Origin III, with forward Chris McQueen hobbling off with an ankle injury at the 51 minute mark.
The men from Townsville have been woeful on the road this year, hitting their lowest ebb on Monday when they were humbled by bottom-placed Newcastle - their seventh road loss of the year.
But 1300 Smiles Stadium has been a fortress and the Cowboys - spearheaded by Johnathan Thurston - proved it in a match that had plenty of feeling.
Thurston, playing his first game at halfback since 2011, ignited the Cowboys from the first whistle as he laid on two tries and had a hand in a third.
The representative playmaker ambushed the Rabbitohs as the Cowboys raced out to a 14-0 lead in less than nine minutes of action.
It started with a kick for winger Curtis Rona to bat back to centre Matthew Wright. Then a face ball put Tariq Sims over and a crisp pass to Kane Linnett led to an Antonio Winterstein try in the left corner.
A Winterstein fumble on his own tryline gifted the Rabbitohs field position and McQueen gobbled up an Adam Reynolds grubber to put the visitors on the board.
But the Cowboys hit back minutes later through some spectacular athleticism from Rona, who again batted the ball back for Wright.
Thurston missed the conversion, but nailed a penalty goal soon after to give his side a 20-6 halftime advantage.
Three penalties swung momentum back in South Sydney's favour after the break as Jason Clark celebrated his birthday with a try under the sticks.
Greg Inglis seemed certain to score in the 66th minute, only stopped by a great one-on-one tackle from his opposite number Michael Morgan.
Ingis he got his result soon after, with John Sutton threading a perfect kick through the line for the rampaging fullback with Reynolds' conversion narrowing the margin to just two.
Sam Burgess was a tower of power for the Rabbitohs, running 151 metres and making 46 tackles.
He was also involved in a number of heated exchanges between the Burgess and Sims brothers.
Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire was disappointed with the way his troops leaked 14 points in the early exchanges.
And he said that the prognosis for McQueen doesn't look good, with the star forward looking at a lengthy stint on the sideline.
"Not looking good at the moment, syndesmosis again," he said.
"I think it might be a bad one but we'll just have to wait and see with the scans."
And Maguire confirmed that Origin III was looking unlikely for McQueen.
"I just spoke to the doctor then, it's not looking good," he said.
Thurston said it was essential to bounce back from Monday night's loss to Newcastle.
"All of us were champing at the bit to get back out there," he said.
"The game couldn't come around soon enough, I couldn't wait to put the jersey back on ... put a bit of pride back in it.
"I was very disappointed personally last week and as a team.
"We responded ... that's the challenge day-in, day-out now."
North Queensland Cowboys 20 (M Wright 2 T Sims A Winterstein tries J Thurston 2 goals) South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 (J Clark G Inglis C McQueen tries A Reynolds 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, Grant Atkins. Crowd: 15,897