That's it from me tonight. Tune in tomorrow as Penrith do battle with the Raiders at Centrebet stadium (2pm Eastern) and the Storm tackle St George Illawarra at AAMI Park (3pm Eastern).
The final score here: Cowboys 24 bt Bulldogs 12.
Thanks and Goodnight.
Some final whistle stats for those dedicated enough to be logged on:
Penalties: Canterbury-Bankstown 10, Cowboys 8
Scrums: Canterbury-Bankstown 6, Cowboys 6
Completed Sets: Canterbury-Bankstown 30/37 (81.08%) North Queensland 25/36 (69.44%)
Possession: Canterbury-Bankstown 49% North Queensland 51%
Tackles: Michael Ennis 40, Aiden Tolman 34, Josh Jackson 22, Martin Taupau 20
Runs: Tony Williams 17 (101m), Josh Morris 15 (99m), Aiden Tolman 15 (97m), Josh Jackson 13 (90m)
Offloads: Krisnan Inu 3, Josh Reynolds 2, Aiden Tolman 1, Tony Williams 1
Metres: Drury Low 120m, Tony Williams 101m, Josh Morris 99m, Aiden Tolman 97m
Linebreaks: Drury Low 1
Kicks: Kris Keating 8 (203m), Josh Reynolds 5 (101m), Drury Low 2 (37m), Steve Turner 1 (26m)
Tackles: Dallas Johnson 30, Matthew Scott 27, Scott Moore 27, Ray Thompson 24
Runs: Matthew Scott 15 (136m), James Tamou 15 (144m), Ashley Graham 13 (119m), Kane Linnett 11 (88m)
Offloads: Johnathan Thurston 2, Ashley Graham 1, Brent Tate 1, Antonio Winterstein 1
Metres: Antonio Winterstein 151m, James Tamou 144m, Matthew Scott 136m, Ashley Graham 119m
Linebreaks: Matthew Bowen 1, Ashley Graham 1, Johnathan Thurston 1, Gavin Cooper 1
Kicks: Johnathan Thurston 9 (168m), Matthew Bowen 4 (189m), Scott Moore 2 (33m), Ray Thompson 1 (41m)
Bulldogs captin Michael Ennis spoke to Fox Sports after the game. Asked where he thought his team lost the match, Ennis was forthright.
"Couldn't control the footy. The effort was there but we just have to go back to the dawing board ... we'll go away and learn a lot from this game."
Fox Sports spoke to my man of the match, Johnathan Thurston after the match.
"It was very fast out there ... it's tough to get a win down here against the Dogs."
Asked what he was happy with during the game, Thurston said:
"We really did a lot of work on our goal-line defence". And it showed. Kane Linnett's two try-saving efforts were critical for the Cowboys when the Bulldogs were knocking down the door.
Fulltime - An opening victory for the Cowboys.
Cowboys 24 bt the defending champion Bulldogs 12
Bulldogs are trying to make something of this in the final moments. 3 minutes remaining. They need to score in this set of six.
OUCH - Reynolds collected by Tariq Sims. The sounds made me whince. Reynolds is up on his feet though, directing traffic, with one arm.
It's now or never for the Bulldogs. Can they muster up some strength and take something from this match?
Kane Linnett again stops Tony Williams. He must weigh as much as Williams's left calf and holds the giant up once more. Huge defensive effort by the Cowboys centre.
Cowboys 24 lead the Bulldogs 12 with seven minutes to go.
The big man, TONY WILLIAMS, his huge frame lumbers towards the line but he loses it on the line under a tackle from Kane Linnett. Winterstein scoops the ball up and heads back towards the Bulldogs try-line but Josh Morris tracks him down. Beautiful dedicated cover defence. Those legs would have been burning.
Drury Low, the ex-Raider breaks the line - what pace. Could have driven to the line, probably should have. Cowboys survive, for now. The very next tackle see's Kris Keating make a poor decision. Why send the kick back to the Bulldog's pack? Opportunity lost for the Doggies, they need some magic soon. But without Barba, where will it come from?
Another error from the Bulldogs who send the kick-off kick into touch. Poor play from the Bulldogs. They've got to start doing the simple things right instead of trying to get fancy.
QUALITY TRY. Quick hands from Thurston to Bowan who delivers a beautiful overhead pass to Ashley Graham, the winger doing well to reach for the line under pressure from ... the man who spilt the ball just monets earlier. Kris Keating, compounding his misery. Thurston misses the conversion.
Cowboys 24 lead the Bulldogs 12
Another handling error by Kris Keating. The Bulldogs halfback coughing up the ball giving the Cowboys good field position. A try here would hurt.
Thurston looks in trouble here. The man took a blow to the nether-region. A bit of ice-cold water down the pants will put out that fire. The man backs up to put a grubber through the legs of two advancing forwards at point-black range. He's not afraid of a hit - almost scores a try. Almost...
Penalty Cowboys. Thurston makes no mistake. 20-12 to the Cowboys. Can they get the monkey off their back against the Bulldogs? Will they be able to hold this level of intensity in the muggy, energy-sapping conditions?
How many grubber-kicks have we seen tonight? Thurston has been threatening every time he's had the ball. Find me a player in better form at this point in time. Ok, besides Greg Inglis...
Cowboys 18 lead the Bulldogs 12 fifteen minutes into the second half.
Beautiful Thurston run through Williams. Didn't think I'd be typing that tonight. Boot to toe, the chase in vein as the Bulldogs clean-up. Cowboys fullback Bowan was cleaned up in that play. What day is it Matt?
Thurston's boot has been magical tonight. He looks sharp at this early stage in the season. How he creates space for himself at first receiver is beyond me! The man is a freak.
With the Bulldogs lining up out wide in Inu and Perritt, Winterstein stopped a certain try, positioning himself well to thwart a Reynolds cross field kick. Winterstein's been heavily involved tonight.
The second half is underway. Whoever holds onto the ball in this one will do the damage. Both sides have displayed poor discipline, let's see if they can improve on their performances in this second forty.
Tackles: Michael Ennis 19, Aiden Tolman 14, Josh Jackson 11, Martin Taupau 9
Runs: Josh Morris 7 (41m), Aiden Tolman 7 (47m), Tony Williams 7 (46m), Steve Turner 6 (31m)
Offloads: Krisnan Inu 2
Metres: Aiden Tolman 47m, Martin Taupau 47m, Tony Williams 46m, Josh Morris 41m
Kicks: Kris Keating 3 (129m), Drury Low 1 (27m)
Tackles: Dallas Johnson 19, Matthew Scott 12, Gavin Cooper 11, Ashton Sims 10
Runs: Matthew Scott 8 (71m), James Tamou 7 (64m), Antonio Winterstein 6 (48m), Gavin Cooper 6 (38m)
Offloads: Antonio Winterstein 1, Johnathan Thurston 1
Metres: Matthew Scott 71m, James Tamou 64m, Antonio Winterstein 48m, Ashley Graham 39m
Linebreaks: Gavin Cooper 1
Kicks: Johnathan Thurston 4 (78m), Matthew Bowen 1 (47m), Scott Moore 1 (26m), James Tamou 1 (4m)
Halftime here at Bluetongue Stadium. The Cowboys lead the Bulldogs 18-12.
It's been a real See-saw battle. Both sides being able to dominate at times.
Some stats for the tragic's:
Penalties: North Queensland 5-2
Scrums: North Queensland 3-2
Completed Sets: Canterbury-Bankstown 12/15 (80.00%) North Queensland 13/16 (81.25%)
Possession: Canterbury-Bankstown 44% North Queensland 56%
Penalty to the Cowboys. That hurts the Bulldogs. A dead gimme for Thurston right in front. Thurston converts. Cowboys 18 lead the Bulldogs 10 right on halftime.
Beautiful little cross-kick grubber-kick from Thurston right into Antonio Winterstein's hands. Another try out wide off a penalty set. The discipline in this one has been beyond poor.
Converted beautifully around the corner by Thurston.
Cowboys 16 lead Bulldogs 12
Big T-REX Tony Williams runs past Thurston. Why didn't he tackle him? His offload to Gavin Cooper results in the fourth try of the match. Wow - what a start, but where is the defence? Surely this point-scoring can't continue. Defence's like this don't win premierships!
Free kick - and converted for the Bulldogs by Inu.
Bulldogs 12 lead Cowboys 4
The Dogs look dangerous. Their pace menacing as Steve Turner crosses the line for his first try of the season. What a response by the stand-in fullback. That can only help his confidence.
Krisnan Inu misses the conversion. Bulldogs 10 Cowboys 4. Neil Henry will be fuming at his team for letting the Bulldogs back into this one.
James Tamou attempts to display his versatility with his feet, pass a low pass with his feet. Stick to league James!
What a reply! The Bulldogs are in. What a response. Through the hands, ricochet off Antonio Winterstein and into Josh Reynolds hands. A piece of luck for the Bulldogs, but more importantly - where was the Cowboys left-side defence? AWOL.
Try converted. Bulldogs 6 lead Cowboys 4. What an action-packed opening five minutes.
What an introduction for make-shift fullback Turner. You have to feel for him. Thurston's kick was perfect. Typical!
Is that a try? Yes it is! One set of six into the match and Thurston's high kick puts Steve Turner under intense pressure who spilt the ball under a heavy hit from Brent Tait. Ashley Graham cleaned up the scraps and falls over the line for a try. Exactly the start the Cowboys wanted. Tait's contact came just after the ball was fumbled by Turner. That's a try!
Cowboys 4 Bulldogs 0 after Thurston's missed conversion.
Good evening league fans. Welcome to the NRL's first round match between the Bulldogs and the Cowboys at Bluetongue Stadium. I'm Alex Rowe and i'll be talking you through this blockbuster. Plagued by pre-season drama, can last season's grand finalists put all the headlines behind them and claim a first-round win? Or will the Cowboys snatch the points against a team they typcially struggle against? In 29 matches the Bulldogs have won 20, the Cowboys 9, with the Queenslanders winning each of their last eight. Welcome to round one of the NRL.
Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford, Saturday 7.30pm (AEDT)
Last meeting: Round 21 2012 - Bulldogs 32 bt Cowboys 18 at ANZ Stadium
Head-to-head: Bulldogs 20 Cowboys 9
Referees: Jason Robinson, Gavin Morris
TV: FoxSports 1, live
TAB Sportsbet: Bulldogs $2.00 Cowboys $1.80
FootyTab: Bulldogs +1.5
Phil Mitchell's preview: After a fortnight in which Ben Barba's personal demons were laid bare as he was stood down from football indefinitely, Canterbury will be happy just to return to the field and try to deflect attention from their star fullback’s ordeal. No doubt Barba will be a huge loss - no other player in the NRL can conjure a try out of nothing quite like him - but the Bulldogs are anything but a one-man band. Des Hasler has transformed them into a formidable unit, from 1-17, and he is fortunate to be able to call on the experienced Steve Turner as Barba's replacement.
The Cowboys have had no such upheavals in the pre-season and have named almost the same run-on team that served them very well last season. The only newcomer is colourful English hooker Scott Moore, who is best known for going on a bender in London with Hollywood wildman Mickey Rourke after a Challenge Cup final loss with Huddersfield. If the Bulldogs have their way, Moore might be drowning his sorrows again.
Late Mail: Mitch Brown is set to drop off a five-man Bulldogs bench for Saturday night's clash with the Cowboys in Gosford. Despite Steve Turner being named at No.1, Drury Low is still a chance of shifting from the wing to fullback to fill the void left by Ben Barba's indefinite suspension.
Robert Lui, named on a six-man Cowboys' bench, has remained in Townsville for personal reasons, with Clint Greenshields brought over to cover for any injuries. Second-rower Scott Bolton is likely to drop off the bench.
AAP writes: No Ben Barba ... no Bulldogs. There are plenty of pundits predicting Canterbury can't possibly be the same team that surged to last year's grand final without the reigning Dally M medallist, who has been suspended indefinitely due to disciplinary issues. If there is anyone who can come up with a solution it is Des Hasler.
The Cowboys, with some help from the referees, know they blew a golden chance to press for their maiden premiership last year and, in what could be Johnathan Thurston's final year with the club, 2013 might be the best chance they get for a while. If the Cowboys are serious they need to start winning away from home. Another exciting first round match-up that could go either way.
Key: Five-eighth Josh Reynolds is possibly the man under as much pressure as any in Barba's absence. Halfback Kris Keating is an honest playmaker at best and, without Barba, it is Reynolds who will be relied upon to crank the Bulldogs attack into gear.
BULLDOGS: Steve Turner, Drury Low, Josh Morris, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett, Josh Reynolds, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (capt), Martin Taupau, Tony Williams, Josh Jackson, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Dene Halatau, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, David Klemmer, Mitch Brown (one to be omitted).
COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Ashley Graham, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Ray Thompson, Matt Scott (capt), Scott Moore, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Rory Kostjasyn, Ashton Sims, Tariq Sims, Jason Taumalolo, Scott Bolton, Robert Lui (two to be omitted).