St George Illawarra Dragons fail to fire in 24-12 opening round loss to North Queensland Cowboys

A flat second half performance has seen St George Illawarra slump to a 24-12 loss to North Queensland in their season opener on Saturday night.

In pouring rain in Townsville, the Dragons failed to ignite in the second half as the Cowboys got home by 12 points on the back of an incredible individual performance from Jason Taumalolo.

The giant Cowboys forward ran for more than 300 metres, made two line breaks and got himself a try assist as the Dragons forwards failed to handle him.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor said his side were their own worst enemy in the first half and he was right - St George Illawarra made 10 errors in the first 40 minutes alone yet somehow only trailed 8-6 at half-time.

The Cowboys in truth were convincing five tries to two winners as the Dragons' new-look spine of captain Gareth Widdop at fullback, new signing Corey Norman at five-eighth and halfback Ben Hunt failed to click first up.

Matt Dufty gave the Dragons some much-needed spark off the bench when he came on late in the second half but it was too little too late as the red V were already well beaten.

The Dragons opened the scoring after 12 minutes through Euan Aitken on the back of a Norman break. The No.6 intercepted a loose ball with the Cowboys on the attack and raced up past halfway before he was tackled. The Dragons shifted right through Hunt, with Aitken getting on the outside of Jake Granville to score.

The hosts hit back twice in the seven minutes before half-time to take the lead into the break. Taumalolo made a break down field before he was felled in a superb try-saving tackle from Widdop. 

A quick play the ball and shift left saw Javid Bowen dive over as Widdop desperately raced to the corner to try and prevent him from scoring. Referees on field ruled no try, only for the video referee officials to find Bowen had grounded the ball.

The Cowboys then hit the front through former Dragons winger Nene Macdonald, who showed great strength to reach over and score in the corner despite the attention of three Dragons defenders.

A John Asiata offload just before the hour mark helped the Cowboys extend their lead as he found Michael Morgan in space, with the halfback celebrating his promotion to Cowboys captain to slip past Widdop and score.

North Queensland showed they might have what it takes to enter the post-Johnathan Thurston era with confidence but one area that might be an issue for them is goalkicking. Jordan Kahu missed their first two conversions from the sideline before Te Maire Martin missed a much simpler chance from next to the posts, keeping the Dragons within striking distance.

Taumalolo then showed great speed and evasive skills for a man of his size to seal the result. His line break saw him draw Widdop and find Martin to score next to the posts, with Kahu's goal giving the Cowboys an 18-6 lead with 13 minutes to play.

Tariq Sims bombed a chance to give the Dragons a late sniff, dropping an excellent Paul Vaughan offload with the line open.

A Morgan grubber kick to Justin O'Neill added gloss to the result in the final five minutes before Jordan Pereira scored a late consolation for the Dragons.

St George Illawarra will need to regroup quickly. The Dragons have a short five-day turnaround before they host traditional rivals South Sydney at Jubilee Stadium, Kogarah on Thursday night - their only home match in the first month of the season.

Leader Scoreboard

North Queensland Cowboys 24 (Javid Bowen, Nene Macdonald, Michael Morgan, Te Maire Martin, Justin O'Neill tries. Jordan Kahu two goals)


St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Euan Aitken, Jordan Pereira tries. Gareth Widdop two goals)

at 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville

Leader man of the match: Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)

Dragons' next three: Rabbitohs (home - Kogarah), Broncos (away), Knights (away)