NORTH QUEENSLAND overcame a short turnaround and draining humidity to grind out a tough win over Newcastle in Townsville last night.
Anthony Mitchell, a match-day replacement for injured halfback Michael Morgan, played a role in all three of the Cowboys' tries as they held off an onslaught by the Knights late in the first half. The crucial eight-point victory temporarily moves the Cowboys into fourth place on the table.
With a slim finals chance of their own up for grabs, the Knights opened the scoring in the fourth minute through centre Timana Tahu. The Cowboys then went on to post 18 unanswered points, with Mitchell involved in everything. The 23-year-old put halves partner Johnathan Thurston into a large gap in the ninth minute to hit straight back at the Novocastrians.
He set up the Cowboys' second try at the 20-minute mark, throwing outside to a roaming Matt Bowen, who skipped past a defender to score his 12th try of the season.
Brent Tate finished off the Cowboys' next try in the play of the match, taking advantage of some brilliant work by Bowen and Mitchell.
The Knights pegged one back through Tahu on the half-hour mark before bridging the gap to four points via Dane Gagai five minutes later, but were then denied three times by the video referee.
Two penalties to Thurston were the only points in the second half, in which neither side had any clear-cut scoring opportunities.
Newcastle captain Danny Buderus said the kicking game of Thurston had been too much for his team to handle.
''JT just kicked us to death tonight,'' Buderus said. ''The kicks he was putting in were the difference.
''We couldn't get out of our own half in the second period and I think, when we did, we were under fatigue and we made a few bad decisions.''
The loss ended the Knights' hopes of making the top eight.