The sigh of relief could be heard from Brisbane all the way to Townsville as the Cowboys defended their way to a morale-boosting win over the Roosters in Magic Round.
After coming within one game of a grand final in 2022, the Cowboys headed to Suncorp Stadium on Sunday with a 3-6 record and still stinging from a 44-6 loss to the Sharks 10 days earlier.
To their credit they dug deep to restrict the Roosters to just one try and also rediscovered some of their attacking flair with Murray Taulagi, Val Holmes and Scott Drinkwater all featuring prominently.
Just before the Cowboys pocketed the much-needed two competition points the Dragons found another way to surrender two points of their own, going down 18-16 to Wests Tigers in a game they had ample opportunity to put to bed long before Mikaele Ravalawa's desperate lunge for the corner in the closing seconds.
After Jayden Sullivan's second try gave them the lead in the 53rd minute the Dragons surrendered the advantage in the 65th minute and were unable to get past a determined Tigers outfit who came up with some huge defensive plays in a frantic finish.
The Dragons' seventh loss of the season leaves them languishing in 16th position and although the Cowboys sit just two spots above them in 14th it's Todd Payten's men who have the confidence and belief the Red V are craving.
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 11 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Cowboys: The Cowboys are 1-17 with no late changes. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown was hit with a high tackle charge for his shot on Jared Waerea-Hargreaves at Magic Round but is free to play after receiving a fine. Brendan Elliott is 18th Man.
Dragons: Captain Ben Hunt moves to hooker for his 300th NRL game with Jayden Sullivan to start in the halves alongside Talatau Amone. Moses Mbye drops back to the bench alongside Toby Couchman. Billy Burns is out of the final as 18th Man with Jack Bird moving into the back row and Michael Molo set to start at lock. Moses Mbye is on the bench.
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 11 -
Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Scott DrinkwaterFullback for Dragons is number 1 Tyrell Sloan
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle FeldtWinger for Dragons is number 2 Mathew Feagai
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Valentine HolmesCentre for Dragons is number 3 Mosese Suli
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Peta HikuCentre for Dragons is number 4 Max Feagai
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Murray TaulagiWinger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele Ravalawa
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Tom DeardenFive-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Talatau Amone
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Dragons is number 14 Jayden Sullivan
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Jordan McLeanProp for Dragons is number 8 Jack De Belin
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece RobsonHooker for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Coen HessProp for Dragons is number 10 Blake Lawrie
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Heilum Luki2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Jaydn Su'a
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Jack Gosiewski2nd Row for Dragons is number 13 Jack Bird
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Reuben CotterLock for Dragons is number 15 Michael Molo
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake GranvilleInterchange for Dragons is number 9 Moses Mbye
Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Mitchell DunnInterchange for Dragons is number 16 Ben Murdoch-Masila
Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Jamayne Taunoa-BrownInterchange for Dragons is number 17 Josh Kerr
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Kulikefu FinefeuiakiInterchange for Dragons is number 18 Toby Couchman
Replacement for Cowboys is number 21 Brendan ElliotReplacement for Dragons is number 11 Billy Burns
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Belinda Sharpe
- Touch Judge: Wyatt Raymond
- Senior Review Official: Matt Noyen
- Cowboys hooker Reece Robson is churning out 44 tackles per game, his total of 443 second only to Bulldog Reed Mahoney (451).
- The Cowboys have won their past three games against the Dragons by a combined scoreline of 103-46.
- Dragons skipper Ben Hunt will become the 47th player to appear in 300 NRL games when the Red V take on the Cowboys on Saturday.
- The Dragons have lost five consecutive games by a total of 13 points.
- Kyle Feldt has scored seven tries in nine games against the Dragons.
- The Cowboys are aiming for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2023.
Stats supplied by David Middleton, League Information Services, author of the official annual of the NRL.
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