Cowboys down Dragons for 10th NRL win

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North Queensland have seen off a spirited challenge by St George Illawarra 31-12 at home to win their 10th game of the season and cement themselves in the competition's top four.

The Cowboys have a knack of turning up their defensive intensity in second halves and held their opposition to just the one try in the second stanza, much to the delight of coach Todd Payten.

Their 46 points conceded in second halves through 14 rounds this season is the NRL's best. They also held their opponents to 12 points or fewer for the 10th time in 2022.

"What's allowing us to play with some freedom, with some ball movement, is the fact that we're willing to back it up with errors or penalties with our D," Payten said.

Tries for Connelly Lemuelu and Murray Taulagi at the beginning and end of the second half capped off an error-strewn evening. The home side were still well in control, however, having scored three tries to one in the first stanza.

Even though the Dragons enjoyed the lion's share of territory in the second half, they could only capitalise late on through a try by Jaydn Su'a in the 74th minute.

Their play-the-balls deep in the final third were shut down with punishing defence by the Cowboys.

Hooker Reece Robson paved the way with 43 tackles, none better than on former teammate Francis Molo on his tryline to force an error late on.

Payten called his hooker's performance their best, if not on a par with co-skipper Jason Taumalolo.

The Tongan wrecking ball was barnstorming through the middle, leading all players with 191 metres off 18 carries, while Jordan McLean carried well to finish with 124.

Valentine Holmes backed up his origin defensive heroics with another classy performance, and his coach said there wasn't much stopping him running out at home in his 150th NRL game.

In the first half, the home side were the first to score when Tom Dearden capitalised on deep territory, putting Coen Hess through a hole before he offloaded to a surging Scott Drinkwater to plunge over.

They then went back-to-back as Dearden forced a goal-line dropout, with Drinkwater turning provider on the resulting set, grubbering to the in-goal for Peta Hiku to bag their second.

A penalty goal by Holmes made it 14-0 after 22 minutes before the Dragons had their first real crack at the line but Cody Ramsey's try was overturned due to obstruction.

Moments later the home side had their third after a deft pass by Taumalolo in midfield put Griffin Neame through a hole, he in turn finding a supporting Robson to score against his former club.

Moses Suli's try before halftime gave the Dragons some hope but the Cowboys kept them at arm's length to secure the win.

But in a blemish for the Cowboys, they lost young-gun backrower Heilum Luki to a suspected ACL injury in the first half.

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