It wasn't pretty, but the Cowboys are off the mark for 2018, winning a scrappy affair over the Cronulla Sharks to celebrate skipper Jonathan Thurston's 300th first grade match in front of his loyal home fans at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville tonight.
And it was the old firm of Thurston and his sidekick Gavin Cooper who sealed the win, when the Cowboys greatest ever player capped a mixed night, when he found his faithful support act Cooper off a perfectly placed grubber close to the line, with the lanky second rower steaming onto the ball to clinch a forgettable but valuable win for the Cowboys.
Despite having a hand in two of the Cowboys four tries, the Cowboys skipper had an awful night with the boot, managing to only land two goals from his five attempts, with the misses keeping the Sharks in the contest for the entire match despite the Sharks being out played throughout.
To be fair though, it was a typical Round 1 affair with both sides guilty of plenty of errors and turnovers, with both sides only completing 68% and 60% of their sets respectively and 15 errors each in a rusty start to the new season.
It was the Sharks poor discipline at crucial times and a whopping 38 missed tackles which costs the Sharks in the end. The loss for Cronulla could be further compounded, with rookie winger Sione Katoa leaving the field with a suspected broken jaw.
Thurston was given a rousing reception from the Cowboys faithful for his 300th first grade match and the Cowboys skipper almost got his chargers off to the perfect start when he put Michael Morgan's scrum base replacement, Te Maire Martin over for the first try of the night. However replays showed Martin lost the ball attempting to score.
Martin did have a hand in the first points of the match, unfortunately for the former Panther it was for the opposition, when the young half gave away a penalty right in front of the posts and Sharks half Chad Townsend took the 2 points on offer, with the visitors leading 2-0 after 10 minutes.
The milestone man Thurston again got involved and after sustained pressure on the Sharks line, the Australian halfback hit fellow representative centre Justin O'Neil close to the line to score the Cowboys first try of the season. The Sharks then immediately lost their way, when they put the kickoff out on the full and off the back off the penalty, Cowboys impact player Coen Hess charged over off a clever Jake Granville pass close to the line to extend the Cowboys lead to 10-2.
To the Sharks credit however, they hung in and were rewarded when Townsend placed a clever kick close to the line, which popped up perfectly for big off season signing Josh Dugan to score on his club debut. Townsend added the extras and despite not even looking in the match the visitors only trailed by 10-8.
The Cowboys however regained the ascendancy just before the break, when a hot stepping Kyle Feldt stepped inside four Sharks defenders to score to extend the Cowboys lead to 14-8 at halftime.
After the break, back to back penalties against Sharks backrower Kurt Capewell, gave Thurston the opportunity to extend the lead and the skipper made no mistake to extend the lead by 16-8 and the Cowboys looked like they were finally going to pull away.
The Sharks however continued to show resolve, mainly thanks to some sloppy execution from North Queensland close to the line, with the home side blowing multiple chances in their own attacking zone.
The Cowboys were given a scare with 14 minutes to go, when Sharks centre Ricky Leutele jagged a loose pass from Martin to race up field before being round up by Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt, however Leutele found interchange hooker James Segeyaro in support and the PNG hooker managed to outrace Gavin Cooper to score a runaway try in the corner. Chad Townsend then converted from out wide to give the Sharks hope of stealing an unlikely victory.
However it was short lived, when the milestone man found the correct play at the right time, setting up Cooper to score the decisive try to seal a gritty win to celebrate his 300th game and to open the Cowboys account for 2018.
For the Sharks there error rate and missed tackle count would be concerning for coach Shane Flanagan and in the end was what made the difference and things will need to improve before they face bitter rivals St George at Shark Park next Thursday night.
The Cowboys will be relieved to collect the two points, but also have some work to do, when they also face off against their traditional rivals in the under fire Broncos side at Suncorp Stadium in an absolute blockbuster next Friday night.