North Queensland 20 South Sydney 18
North Queensland veteran Ashton Sims is crunched by the South Sydney defence in Tonwsville. Photo: Getty Images
Johnathan Thurston claimed North Queensland were punished because he didn't take a dive as the Cowboys staved off a determined South Sydney comeback.
The extent to which NQ are a completely different side at home was underscored when Paul Green's side rebounded from a poor Monday Night Football performance in Newcastle to stun the premiership high fliers 20-18.
Cowboys forward Tariq Sims dives over the line to score against Souths. Photo: Getty Images
And shortly before half-time at 1300SMILES Stadium, Souths enforcer Sam Burgess took Thurston high and Ashton Sims was penalised for rushing in.
"If I had stayed down, it would have been a penalty," an angry Thurston told referee Ben Cummins. "It was a swinging arm across the head."
North Queensland led 20-6 at the end of a first half that featured the renewal of hostilities between the Burgess and Sims clans.
South Sydney started off on the wrong foot, allowing the kick-off to bounce and almost go dead, and were down 14-0 after nine minutes.
Winger Curtis Rona flew high and tapped a bomb down to centre Matthew Wright after three minutes, Thurston converting.
Thurston's pass sent lock Tariq Sims crashing over three minutes later and winger Antonio Winterstein touched down narrowly inside the in-goal for a video referee-approved ninth-minute score.
At the 20-minute mark, Rabbitohs second-rower Chris McQueen chased Adam Reynolds' kick into the in-goal, winning the race to the Steeden for a try which Steve Chiddy and Steve Folkes also approved after checking obstruction. The margin was briefly narrowed to eight but NQ hit back with their best try.
Rona trailed Michael Morgan's kick into the in-goal and brilliantly tapped it from out-of-bounds for another Wright try.
Sam Burgess was penalised for pulling Ashton Sims' hair midway through the first half and when Burgess challenged Thurston with a high shot, the Cowboy rushed in to defend his captain. The penalty went to Souths, prompting Thurston's angry retort.
After the break, South Sydney set about clawing their way back into the match.
In the 46th minute, replacement Jason Clark lowered his centre of gravity and arrowed over the try line between the posts, with double movement checked and discounted,
Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston narrowly missed out on a 51st minute try but with 13 minutes remaining, Greg Inglis made a break and them chased John Sutton's kick on the next tackle to dot down.
Reynolds' conversion narrowed the margin to two, setting up a high stakes shoot out for the final 10.
Thurston was unfortunate to be denied what looked like a 40-20 kick late in a tense clash.