Valentine Holmes returned after a spell in the NFL, as the North Queensland Cowboys welcomed Brisbane Broncos to the brand new Queensland Country Bank Stadium on opening night.
With Jack Bird out with a horrible ACL injury, Jamayne Isaako starts at full-back with young Englishman Herbie Farnworth promoted to the bench for the Broncos.
With the kick-off from Kyle Feldt going straight into touch, Brisban were given the chance to attack from the start but a fifth tackle kick was snuffed out by Justin O’Neill.
The centre was then hit with a bad shot by Tevita Pangai Jr, which was then placed on report and the Cowboys kicked clear to touch.
The physicality levels were high at the start of the game, with neither team shy to hit hard in defence.
The Broncos were given a great chance to put some points on the board as a high Anthony Milford kick was dropped by Holmes just in front of the try line and it was Jake Turpin who punished the full-back.
The hooker picked up dummy-half, threw a huge dummy, which fooled Holmes and McLean, stepped back and slid over.
He scored the last try at the 1300Smiles Stadium last season against the Cowboys, and also the first try at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
North Queensland hit straight back though, as a dropped ball from Payne Haas gave the home side even tackles from just five metres from the try line.
On tackle four, Michael Morgan and Scott Drinkwater linked up and shifted the ball out to the left edge, onto Valentine Holmes, who made up for his previous error as he twisted and turned through Jesse Arthars and Kotoni Staggs to score.
Holmes failed with his conversion to leave them two points back.
With 20 minutes gone, Brisbane extended their lead as they exposed a poor Scott Drinkwater read, and with a two-on-one on the outside, Kotoni Staggs stepped back inside Ben Hampton and Holmes to pick up his first of the season.
North Queensland were on the hunt for a second try, and were closing in on the Broncos line and the pressure was building.
Michael Morgan made a half-break as he challenged the line but was clipped by David Fifita. As he fell to the floor, the attempt to release Kyle Feldt but the pass bounced into touch.
Morgan then made an inch perfect kick, which bounced just inside the field of play, onto the chest of Corey Oates, into touch to give the Cowboys an attacking scrum 10 metres out.
This time, the Broncos were punished for their mistake as the ball was shifted from the left edge out to the right and Kyle Feldt crossed in the corner. Holmes once again was unsuccessful with the boot with Brisbane ahead 8-12 with five minutes to go until the break.
Another mistake from the Broncos followed, as a kick from Drinkwater caused havoc on the visitors left edge. Feldt claimed the ball and offloaded to Marsters, he then dribbled the ball through, the ball bounced off Isaako and into the hands of David Fifita for a Cowboys penalty.
Fortunately for Brisbane, Morgan was deemed to have lost control of the ball, even after the Captain’s Challenge from Morgan.
With seconds left on the clock, and the Cowboys receiving a goal-line drop out, Michael Morgan chose not to accept a tackle and kicked a huge 45 metre drop-goal to make it 9-12 at the break.
HALF-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 9-12 Brisbane Broncos
After a tight first half, both sides looked to take control of the game in the opening stages of the second period.
The Broncos were the side that looked most likely to do this after a break from Isaako allowed him to offload to Pangai Jr.
This caused the Cowboys defence to be a sixes and sevens and a high kick from Brodie Croft bounced awkwardly and was picked up by Pangai Jr who extended the Brisbane lead.
A back and forth game ensued with chances to score for both sides, but it was the Broncos who were in control of the territorial battle.
Brisbane made sure that they made the most of their possessions too, as David Fifita took the ball from a standing start on his own 40 metre line, threw off Coen Hess twice, and charged passed Holmes to score a wonderful try.
The visitors then turned it up a notch, as Jamayne Isaako decided he didn’t just want to convert tries, he wanted to score them too.
Pangai Jr and Arthars combined on the right said as Arthars offloaded to the full-back and despite cramping up, managed to dot the ball down for a fifth try.
The Cowboys were determined not to give up though,and with 15 minutes left, pulled a try back.
Gavin Cooper the recipient of a flat pass from Drinkwater to break the Brisbane line.
Kyle Feldt converted to make it 15-28 with 14 minutes remaining
That deficit should have narrowed further after Marsters, Morgan and Granville combined to put the Cowboys just a few metres out.
The moved to the left hand edge, with a three man overlap, but Ben Hampton was tackled by three covering Broncos defenders to stop the winger.
Hampton did score just a minute later though. Isaako fumbled a short kick after cramping up, Morgan picked it up and released Hampton who raced away to score.
Despite playing well all game, Drinkwater dropped an easy pass as the Cowboys looked to peg the Broncos back further.
With less than minute to go, a high kick from Drinkwater bounced backwards off the hand of Ben Hampton into the grasp of Mitchell Dunn but and Dunn bullied his way over the line for a try.
Unfortunately, Hampton knocked the ball into Herbie Farnworth before Dunn gathered and the try was disallowed.
FULL-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 21-28 Brisbane Broncos
North Queensland Cowboys
Holmes, Feldt, O’Neill, Marsters, Hampton, Drinkwater, Morgan, Asiata, Granville, McLeane, Cooper, Hess, Taumalolo
Interchanges: Robson, Dunn, Molo, Jensen
Tries: Holmes, Feldt, Cooper, Hampton
Goals: Holmes (0/2), Feldt (2/2)
Isaako, Oates, Staggs, Boyd, Arthars, Milford, Croft, Flegler, Turpin, Haas, Fifita, Pangai Jr, Carrigan.
Interchanges: McCullough, Kennedy, Hopoate, Farnworth
Tries: Turpin, Staggs, Pangai Jr, Fifita, Isaako
Goals: Isaako (4/4), Arthars (0/1)