THE Cowboys' season has suffered a huge blow with skipper and marquee star Johnathan Thurston carried off with a leg injury in Saturday night's 26-16 shock defeat to the Wests Tigers in Townsville.
The halfback was taken from the field in obvious pain to add major salt into the wound of the upset of the season against an under-siege Tigers.
It is the biggest setback of all to an already injury-stricken Cowboys, who were already without the likes of Justin O'Neill, Matt Scott and Lachlan Coote, a late withdrawal with a calf injury.
The Tigers defied a week of turmoil to pull off the upset of the year against a lethargic and disorganised North Queensland.
Five-eighth Mitchell Moses signed a deal with Parramatta in coach Ivan Cleary's first week in charge, but the Tigers shut out the off-field crisis to shock the Cowboys.
Worryingly it is the second time an under-siege club has ambushed North Queensland at home after Manly did likewise in round three when coach Trent Barrett was under huge pressure.
Down 14-0 after just 15 minutes and 20-6 at the break, the Cowboys had all the ball and field position in the second half but couldn't crack the determined Tigers.
Through determination and sheer will they repelled wave after wave of Cowboys attack to prove there's life in their season yet.
It was Cleary's first win in Townsville in seven attempts in the ideal start to his Concord tenure.
North Queensland also lost Shaun Fensom to an ankle ligament injury, the forward lasting just a couple of minutes before limping off the field.
The Tigers had scored just four tries in their previous four games, but took less than 10 minutes to cross the stripe twice.
The Tigers made the best possible start when the Cowboys spilt a bomb, with Ava Seumanufagai on hand to mop up and score for a 6-0 lead.
Six minutes later the man everyone was watching, Mitchell Moses, put David Nofoaluma into space with a cut-out pass, with the winger passing inside to Elijah Taylor for the try.
In the 15th minute the Tigers cut through the Cowboys through the middle again through James Tedesco, and Nofoaluma took advantage of a huge overlap down the Tigers right edge the next set.
The Cowboys desperately needed a spark and it was their $10 million man Jason Taumalolo who provided it in the 25th minute by running over the top of Aaron Woods to score.
However the Tigers took just eight minutes to restore their 14-point advantage when hooker Matt McIlwrick scored a soft try out of dummy half close to the try line.
The hosts started the second half with more intensity and were rewarded when back-rower Coen Hess scored his fifth try of the year off a Johnathan Thurston grubber, with Thurston's conversion giving him 2000 points for the club.
The Tigers defence refused to crack under tremendous pressure until Hess managed his second for the game with six minutes left to close the gap to 20-16.
Cowboys winger Gideon Gela-Mosby dropped a Thurston cross-field kick on the next set with the match-levelling try at his mercy.
Jacob Liddle scored the match-sealing try with two minutes to go.
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