North Queensland have survived an almighty scare in a 30-14 win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Thursday after nearly seeing a 24-0 lead clawed back to 24-14 before kicking away late to displace the Bulldogs in the top eight.
In the absence of star halfback Johnathan Thurston, five-eighth Michael Morgan put in his best performance of the year, scoring one try and setting up four others with a masterful kicking performance.
The Bulldogs looked completely bereft of ideas in attack in a dire first half marked by poor last-tackle options while the Cowboys looked a more complete side despite Thurston's absence with hooker Jake Granville and fullback Lachlan Coote back from injury.
While the Dogs looked like setting the tone with an early Brenko Lee line break, a subsequent try to Kerrod Holland was disallowed for an obstruction and from there it was all North Queensland.
Morgan put in a beautiful cross-field chip for Kyle Feldt to open the scoring in the seventh minute before putting a wonderful piece of footwork on David Klemmer and Moses Mbye to cross himself in the 25th minute.
The Bulldogs struggled to find an acceptable last-tackle play throughout the half which scuppered their hopes of building any pressure and ended up being forced into a few goal-line drop outs late in the half.
The damage wasn't quite finished though with Morgan setting up yet another try in the 36th minute, this time with a precision grubber bobbing into the hands of Coen Hess. Ethan Lowe's perfect strike rate off the tee made it 18-8 at the break.
A pair of silly errors from Sam Kasiano – who offloaded to Ben Hampton then gave a clear ruck penalty away – allowed Lowe to add another two shortly after the break. Yet another incisive Morgan grubber wrong-footed Brett Morris and was dived on by Hess for his second try of the night and at 24-0 with half an hour to play the match was looking well out of the Dogs' grasp.
From nowhere though the Bulldogs found a colossal momentum shift. Lowe dropped it in the set following points and Lachlan Coote made a complete meal of a Frawley attacking grubber to hand Kerrod Holland a gift of a try to get the blue-and-whites on the board.
The Bulldogs then found themselves camped in Cowboys territory earning set after set after set with the aid of Cowboys errors and penalties as the visitors just couldn't get out of their end.
The run of penalties eventually took its toll with referee Matt Cecchin sending Ray Thompson to the sin-bin for repeated infringements.
The Dogs took most of the 10 minutes to make their one-man advantage count but earned a quick double-strike in the 68th and 70th minutes. First a nice Hopoate flat ball and miracle Brenko Lee offload put Holland over for his second then Danny Fualalo finished off a stunning length-of-the-field effort that is a contender for team try of the year.
At 24-14 with 10 to play it was game on but Fualalo's drop in the set after points took the wind out of the Bulldogs' sails and Morgan's fourth try assist of the night – this time his grubber kick sat up for Ben Spina to score – sealed the 30-14 result.
North Queensland Cowboys 30 (Hess 2, Feldt, Morgan, Spina tries; Lowe 5 goals) defeated Canterbury Bulldogs 14 (Holland 2, Fualalo tries; Holland goal) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Cowboys 18-0.