Johnathan Thurston has piloted North Queensland to their first away win of the season and back into the NRL top eight.
Almost a year after recording their last win on the road at the same venue, the Cowboys returned to Remondis Stadium to rout Cronulla 36-18 in a chilly opening to Rise For Alex Round on Friday night.
The Cowboys flew from tropical Townsville into arctic on-field conditions of just two degrees.
But thankfully for his teammates, Thurston was as hot as ever, the champion playmaker bagging two tries and slotting six goals for a 20-point haul.
Thurston swapped his No.7 jumper for No.16 in honour of injured Newcastle star Alex McKinnon and duly delivered a classy man-of-the-match display to keep the Cowboys’ finals hopes alive.
After eight losses from as many starts on the road in 2014, North Queensland’s season had been slipping away.
Apart from a brief fightback just before halftime, the hapless Sharks were not in the contest.
The last-placed hosts – or more specifically fullback Michael Gordon – endured a horror opening to gift the Cowboys an early head start.
First Gordon spilt a towering bomb from Robert Lui straight into the arms of Tariq Sims and the big second-rower powered over under the sticks after barely a minute.
Thurston’s first conversion of the night made it 6-0 and the Cowboys thought they’d doubled their lead two minutes later after another Gordon howler.
This time he made a meal of a grubber kick from Rory Kostjasyn, who followed up to clean up the scraps and dive over in the right-hand corner – only for the video referees to over-rule the on-field officials and deny the Cowboys a second try.
No matter, Thurston dummied his way through some soft defence a minute later to extend his side’s lead to 10 points.
It was 16-0 when winger Antonio Winterstein then crossed in the 22nd minute and Thurston converted.
Aided by a glut of penalties, the Sharks netted quickfire tries to centre Jonathan Wright and back-rower Luke Lewis to head to the sheds trailing only 16-12.
But it was one-way traffic after the interval, with fullback Michael Morgan and lock Glenn Hall kicking the Cowboys 18 points clear.
Thurston sealed the deal when he chipped through and then stripped Gordon of the ball to collect his second try and convert for a 36-12 lead.
Gordon grabbed a consolation try for the Sharks late and also became the 48th player in NRL history to record 1000 points, but it was otherwise very much a night to forget for the Sharks No.1.
The only concerns for the Cowboys were forward Ashton Sims and five-eighth Lui being placed on report for first-half high tackles on Sharks pair Jacob Gagan and Andrew Fifita.