By Mary Maidiotis
The St George Illawarra Dragons were defeated 30-24 in a tight game against the North Queensland Cowboys at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Saturday.
The Young Dragons ran in four tries but it was not enough, as the second-placed Cowboys clinched the lead ten minutes out from full-time.
Head Coach Ben Hornby made two changes to the side named midweek with Dee Jay Harris and Jay Gallagher moving into the starting line up in lieu of Topiesi Taufa and Hame Sele respectively.
The visitors opened the scoring in the seventh minute as second-rower Viliame Kikau found a gap in the defence and crossed the try-line.
The Red-and-Whites responded within minutes with a blitzing run down the sideline from winger Tom Carr, putting in a stellar effort to remain in touch.
Dragons second-rower Ryan James slotted the conversion to gain the lead after 15 minutes.
The Cowboys were in again on the mark of the first-quarter through five-eighth Kyle Laybutt who exploited the same gap which allowed for the first try.
Red V teammates James and Ryan Fletcher combined on some fancy footwork 15 minutes out from the break with the hooker eventually finding the gap to score under the posts.
James converted the try from right in front to make it 12-8.
The Cowboys found the gap for a third-time as Kikau crossed for his second, locking the scores up at 12-all, two minutes out from half-time.
The locals were first to strike on return from the break as centre Izaac Thompson caught a stunning pass from the sideline and went over to score.
James converted to give his side a six-point lead.
The Red-and-Whites continued the momentum when five-eighth Rhys Davies made a break and ran the length of the field before putting in a perfectly-weighted chip kick for fullback Matt Dufty to pounce on and score.
James converted to extend the lead to 24.
Opposition second-rower Kikau picked up his hat-trick in the 55th minute, scoring right under the posts, allowing halfback Cooper Bambling to easily convert his first for the afternoon.
Visiting winger Jesse Pomare-Anderson put on the afterburners to score in the left corner, as Bambling converted to lock the scores up once again with 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Cowboys sealed victory with ten minutes remaining as Laybutt made a break and sprinted down the sideline to score his second of the afternoon, with the defenders unable to catch him.
Bambling converted to make it 30-24.
St George Illawarra Dragons 24. Tries: Carr, Fletcher, Thompson, Dufty. Goals: James (4/4).
North Queensland Cowboys 30. Tries: Kikau (3), Laybutt (2), Pomare-Anderson. Goals: Bambling (3/6).