Gold Coast 28 North Queensland 12
Agony ... James Segeyaro’s ankle injury in the first half. Photo: Getty Images
GOLD COAST captain Scott Prince late last night stressed the game against North Queensland earlier in the evening had not been a tennis match between himself and Johnathan Thurston.
But at the risk of labouring an obvious metaphor, the "love" between the two long-time selection rivals would have been represented by Prince's straight-sets victory if it had been.
Brent Tate of the Cowboys fends off Beau Champion of the Titans. Photo: Getty Images
After an abysmal start to the season, Gold Coast have now strung together three consecutive victories to lift the hopes of the NRL's most beleagured fans that something can yet be salvaged from 2012.
Last night their 28-12 success came in the most dramatic fashion - the Titans kicked the ball out on the full from the start of the contest and found themselves without the ball for almost a quarter of an hour.
There were four line dropouts in the first seven minutes - and another not long afterwards - and the tackle count at one stage was 73-10 in "favour" of Gold Coast.
Yet they led the NRL's top first-half scoring team 12-0 at the break and finished with five tries to complement wins over Canterbury and Wests Tigers. The game was marred by injuries to North Queensland hooker James Segeyaro (ankle) and Gold Coast prop Luke Bailey, who, according to commentator Paul Vautin, reported ribs loose in his abdomen.
"We sat here after a fair few losses early and people were pretty quick to say our season was over," said coach John Cartwright, when asked to explain his side's remarkable turnaround.
"The playing group didn't believe it. It's sometimes tough to stay positive, but they have."
Prince had recaptured the spark of his glory days, particularly when he bamboozled the defence in setting up Greg Bird's first-half score. Cartwright said Bird was in career-best form and Prince was back to enjoying himself.
"It's always good to play the best and JT's certainly one of those, but it's not a tennis match out there where it's just me and him out there on the court,'' he said.
"JT's smacked my bum a few times so I'll take them when I can. There's outside pressures but we knew if we worked hard enough, things would have to change.
"It's important for us that we've got some confidence and self-belief in the team to just enjoy it … there were some dark days, but we've moved on."
According to North Queensland prop Matt Scott, the Cowboys are "off the money" at the moment.
Referring to seven line-dropouts by the Titans, Scott said: "We're normally pretty good at converting that possession.
"It just showed we're off the money a bit at the moment. Execution just wasn't right and they took a lot of confidence out of defending a couple of sets on their line. The last two games, we've been pretty poor. There's really no excuse for it."
Coach Neil Henry - who reckoned 'we weren't really in the game' - says fatigue is at least a factor. "We're one of the last teams to get a bye," he said.
For the Cowboys, replacement Cory Paterson's try was nothing more than a consolation score and it was proved as such when Beau Champion flashed over again for the Titans with six to go.
Jason Taumalolo scored another consolation try, converted by Thurston, on the bell.
Prince declined to speculate about the chances of the Titans making the finals while Henry admitted his men were looking forward to a break next week.
The crowd of 12,092 was kept down by the rain but after positive off-field news regarding a deal with the Titans creditors, Cartwright was confident fans would get back on board in the weeks ahead.
After showing so much promise at times this year, the Cowboys have hit a mini-hole with two consecutive losses. The Titans have been in a hole for almost as long as they can remember - last night's was only their second win in their last 14 starts at Skilled Park.
GOLD COAST 28 (B Champion 2 K Gordon G Bird A Harrison tries S Prince 4 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 12 (C Paterson J Taumalalolo tries J Thurston 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: S Hayne/A Shortall. Crowd: 12,092