Their best performance of the 2014 NRL season so far propelled the Toyota Cowboys to a 28-2 thrashing of Newcastle in their round five meeting at 1300SMILES Stadium.
With Michael Morgan and Robert Lui prominent in attack, North Queensland ended their three-game losing streak by scoring five tries and keeping the Knights scoreless for the final 73 minutes.
Morgan came up with a try in both halves and was often dangerous when he found his way into the attacking line, showing he is becoming more at home in the fullback role.
The only sour point for the Cowboys was a shoulder injury sustained by boom back-rower Jason Taumalolo as he tried to score a spectacular try in the second half.
On a congested early season ladder, North Queensland are now just one win off second place and will take a 2-3 win-loss record into a Saturday night clash with Wests Tigers at Campbelltown this weekend.
The Cowboys handed a debut to Matthew Wright, who joined NQ from Cronulla at the start of the season. He took over on the right wing from Kyle Feldt, while Joel Riethmuller returned for his first game since round one, replacing Glenn Hall on the bench. Newcastle left Zane Tetevano off their interchange list, going with an unchanged starting 13 after demolishing Cronulla eight days earlier.
The Knights posted first points in the seventh minute via Tyrone Roberts after the Cowboys were hit with back-to-back penalties and they held their 2-0 advantage to midway through the half.
From then on, it was almost all Cowboys as their attack clicked for one of the first times this year.
North Queensland had enjoyed little reward with their short kicking game until Robert Lui flighted a perfect chip to his right and Matthew Wright grabbed it to touch down in the corner, his first try for the Cowboys coming only 15 minutes into his debut.
Not long after, the Cowboys had their second – again down their right side.
A break from Lui, who was having his best half of the season, looked like it was coming to nothing when his pass outside to Michael Morgan went slightly astray but the quick-thinking fullback cleverly kneed the ball ahead, Brent Tate took it on the full and ran around to score his first for 2014.
With 11 minutes left in the half, the lead was increased again – Morgan finding a hole from a perfectly timed Thurston pass to cross for his second of the year.
The champion five-eighth booted two out of three in the tricky windy conditions to jump his side more than two converted tries clear.
After making a mammoth 23 mistakes in possession in their loss to the Gold Coast a week earlier, the Cowboys made just two in the opening 40 to keep the Knights on the back foot.
It was more of the same from the under-control Cowboys in the second 40 as they pushed their advantage home, although the half started with a dropped ball in the first set.
Morgan came up with his side’s fourth try with a fine individual effort, grubber-kicking ahead on the last before stumbling and then managing to get his hand to the footy before any Knight arrived on the scene.
It looked like Antonio Winterstein had added to the 22-2 lead when he waltzed over after a spilled Thurston high ball ended up in his hands.
After being ruled a try on the field, it was overturned upstairs by video refs Matt Cecchin and Andrew Dunemann who found an accidental offside in the build-up.
After going close earlier in the half when he was held up over the line by outstanding Newcastle defence, interchange hooker Ray Thompson cashed in with 18 minutes left.
He caught the Knights out with a sprint out of dummy-half and raced 35 metres to the line for the Cowboys’ fifth try of the night, sealing the contest.
North Queensland’s solid defence that has been a feature of the opening five weeks was at its best in the final 15 minutes, especially when it repelled a number of sets on their own line to ensure the Knights went home without a try.
A fine tackle from Tyrone Roberts denied Tariq Sims a try with three minutes left and the Cowboys back-rower found himself on report for a shoulder charge not long before full time.
NQ ended up completing 32 of 41 sets (78%), well up on their season average of 67%.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS: 1. Michael Morgan 19. Matthew Wright 3. Brent Tate 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Johnathan Thurston 7. Robert Lui 8. Matthew Scott 9. Rory Kostjasyn 10. James Tamou 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Jason Taumalolo 13. Tariq Sims. Interchange: 14. Ray Thompson 16. Ashton Sims 17. Scott Bolton 18. Joel Riethmuller.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: 1. Darius Boyd 2. James McManus 3. Dane Gagai 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Akuila Uate 6. Michael Dobson 7. Tyrone Roberts 8. Kade Snowden 9. Kurt Gidley 10. Willie Mason 11. Beau Scott 12. Robbie Rochow 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14. Adam Clydsdale 15. Korbin Sims 17. Adam Cuthbertson 18. David Fa'alogo.