Dragons leap back to top of the ladder with defeat of Cowboys

St George Illawarra righted their top-four ship, and reclaimed the competition lead, with a 24-10 win over North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night.

The Dragons came in staring down the barrel of three straight losses, and a potential tumble out of the top four, only to find themselves back on top of the ladder following the Tigers' stunning upset of the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.

Sidestepped: Ben Hunt of the Dragons gets past Johnathan Thurston in Townsville.

Sidestepped: Ben Hunt of the Dragons gets past Johnathan Thurston in Townsville.

Having handed them consecutive losses for the first time this season last week, the Tigers did Paul McGregor's men a huge favour, with the 22-6 scoreline enough to propel the Dragons back to top spot on for-and-against.

They will stay there if the Warriors can knock off the Storm in Auckland on Sunday, with sides one through eight still in the hunt for a top-four finish with six rounds remaining.

It was a dramatic change of fortunes for the Dragons, whose three wins through the representative period have come against the struggling Bulldogs, Eels and Sea Eagles, while their last win over a top-eight side came against Melbourne in round nine.

A win over the 15th placed Cowboys wasn't a return to that form, but it snared a crucial two points ahead of clashes with top-four rivals the Roosters and Warriors in the next two weeks.

It was a fifth straight loss for the Cowboys and leaves them battling to ensure they don't send out retiring champion Jonathan Thurston, who left the ground with a Tariq Sims-shaped divot in his chest, a wooden spooner.

It was a bizarrely conservative effort from the home side, with Thurston opting to take a shot at penalty goal in prime field position three times in the opening 18 minutes despite trailing 6-0 early.

They made the same call when Jack de Belin was sin-binned midway through the first half, briefly leading 10-6 before ultimately conceding four tries to one in a fifth straight loss.

The Dragons opened the scoring in just the second minute, with Matt Dufty breezing past Thurston to put Jason Nightingale over in the corner. Gareth Widdop's conversion gave the visitors a 6-0 lead.

Three straight penalties saw the Cowboys march up the park in response, with Thurston taking the two points to cut the margin back to four after nine minutes.

He did the same nine minutes later, with his attempt bouncing off the upright. De Belin was penalised after the hosts regained possession, earning himself 10 minutes in the sin-bin on the back of a 5-1 penalty count.

Thurston made no mistake with his next effort, nailing his third attempt of the evening to peg the margin back to two after 18 minutes. Gavin Cooper scored the simplest of tries from dummy half three minutes later with Thurston converting to take a 10-6 lead.

Dufty was in the action again nine minutes before the beak, splitting the Cowboys through the middle on scintillating 30-metre dash to score under the posts. Widdop converted to re-take the lead 12-10.

Sims extended the margin when he crashed over with 90 seconds left in the opening stanza, with Widdop converting again to take an eight-point buffer into half-time.

Debutant Jordan Pereira celebrated his first NRL start with a try nine minutes after the resumption when he latched onto to a pinpoint accurate left-foot kick from Widdop. The skipper converted to extend the margin to 14.

The Cowboys had several opportunities to cut back the deficit, but couldn't make any of them count on the scoreboard, with the Dragons cruising to victory.

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