By Mary Maidiotis
The St George Illawarra Dragons were defeated 18-12 by the North Queensland Cowboys at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Saturday.
The Red-and-Whites ran in two tries through Euan Aitken and Mark Ioane but it was not enough as they lost to the second-place Cowboys.
Head Coach Paul McGregor made five changes to the side named midweek as a result of injuries in addition to a suspension to second-rower Will Matthews.
Nathan Green replaced Matthews, donning the Red V for the first time in 2015 and was joined by teammate Charly Runciman who was named in lieu of injured winger Eto Nabuli.
Furthermore, fullback Justin Hunt made his Dragons debut in place of Jason Nightingale who was unable to overcome an ankle injury in time for the game.
New recruit Mark Ioane also started off the interchange bench, and was accompanied by fellow newcomer Luke Page who made his first-grade debut.
It took just two minutes for the visitors to open their account as centre Kane Linnett picked up a loose ball and dove over in the left corner.
Minutes after the mark of the first quarter, the Cowboys were awarded a penalty slightly to the left of the posts on the 20 metre line.
Second-rower Ethan Lowe slotted the goal to put his side a converted try ahead.
The hosts picked up their first points of the night when centre Euan Aitken broke free from the grasps of the opposition defenders and found the white line.
Five-eighth Gareth Widdop nailed the conversion with ease to level the scores ten minutes out from half-time.
Cowboys centre Linnett bagged his second of the night when he pounced on a kick off the boot of halfback Robert Lui and was ruled to have grounded the ball by the video referee.
Lowe converted the try to regain the lead heading into the break.
The visitors were first to strike on return from half-time as hooker Jake Granville crashed over the line.
Lowe extended the lead to 18-6 with a simple goal in the 53rd minute.
Ten minutes later, Red V debutant Mark Ioane outran two Cowboys defenders and managed to remain in touch to score in the left corner to pick up his first club try.
Widdop sliced the ball between the posts to put his side within six points.
The home-side continued to apply pressure but their efforts went awry as they fell 18-12.
Dragons winger Yaw Kiti Glymin had a less-than-ideal first-grade debut, injuring his hamstring in a run-up, shortly after the half-time break.
St George Illawarra Dragons 12. Tries: Aitken, Ioane. Goals: Widdop (2/2).
North Queensland Cowboys 18. Tries: Linnett (2), Granville. Goals: Lowe (2/3). Penalty Goals: Lowe (1/1).