The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s have finally returned to the victory dais after a month of anguish as they comfortably accounted for the Gold Coast Titans in Round 13 National Youth Competition action in Townsville.
Staring down a fifth straight defeat, the Cowboys atoned against the team that started the month of losses, the 36-18 win a timely confidence boost for a team continuing to be hit by injury.
Back-rower Hiale Royroft was the latest casualty, the young forward ruled out during the week after hurting his leg in Wednesday's Under-20s State of Origin curtain-raiser.
Ryan Lloyd was a late inclusion, and slotted into the starting team as the young Cowboys played without fear to record a seventh victory of the year.
NRL squad member Kalyn Ponga opened the Cowboys’ account in the 10th minute, the 18-year-old flyer showing good acceleration in traffic to dart over after captain Mitch Dunn ghosted 20m across the field looking for opportunity.
The Titans hit back at the 17-minute mark on the back of an error as the Gold Coast youngsters showed good enterprise and won a kick chase for the score.
Digging deep, the hosts hit back six minutes later with some effort-on-effort magic from tireless lock Corey Horsburgh.
Backing up from representing Queensland Under-20s mid-week, Horsburgh had a stellar first half, leading the way in hit-ups.
But it was some individual brilliance that shone most brightly in the 23rd minute.
One play after getting away a neat offload and advancing his team close to the line, Horsburgh put in an opportunistic grubber after demanding the ball and won the race to ground it.
Impressive Titans youngster Keegan Hipgrave got his team back on the scoresheet in the 35th minute and scores were locked at 12-all at the main break.
North Queensland came out full of intent in the second and within eight minutes, the lead had ballooned to 12 as interchange prop Solomon Vasuvulagi and then winger Marshall Hudson saluted, Hudson’s effort a long-range one after Lloyd showed skill to swoop on a loose ball and release centre Kurt Wiltshire who then passed to Hudson.
The Titans were persistent, though, and centre Daniel Brownbill crossed with plenty of time left on the clock to have his side trail by just six points.
But Ponga put the matter beyond doubt in the 71st minute when he burst through a tiring Titans defence for his second try.
Hudson scored on the bell for a double of his own as the Cowboys ran away with it in the end.
The win gives the young Cowboys seven wins from 12 games, and puts them on 16 competition points after last weekend’s bye.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS NYC 36 (Kalyn Ponga 2, Marshall Hudson 2, Corey Horsburgh, Solomon Vasuvulagi, tries; Michael Carroll 4, Murray Taulagi 2 goals) def GOLD COAST TITANS 18 (Tyronne Roberts-Davis, Keegan Hipgrave, Daniel Brownbill tries; Ethan Roberts 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium.