North Queensland have seen off a spirited challenge by St George Illawarra 31-12 at home to win their 10th game of the season and cement themselves in the competition's top four.
The Cowboys have a knack of turning up their defensive intensity in second halves and held their opposition to just the one try in the second stanza.
Their 46 points conceded in second halves through 14 rounds this season is the NRL's best.
Cowboys tries to Connelly Lemuelu and Murray Taulagi at the beginning and end of the second half capped off an error-strewn evening, the home side still well in control however after they'd added three tries to one in the first stanza.
It was the visitors who enjoyed the lions share of territory in the second half, only capitalising on it late through a try to Jaydn Su'a in the 74th minute.
Their play-the-balls deep in the final third were shutdown with punishing defence by the Cowboys.
North Queensland hooker Reece Robson paved the way with 43 tackles, none better than on former teammate Francis Molo on his tryline to force an error late.
Co-skipper Jason Taumalolo was back to his barnstorming best through the middle, leading all players with 191 metres off 18 carries while Jordan McLean was damaging through the middle to finish with 124.
In the first half, a try in the final minutes would be one of the Dragons' two after a frantic beginning at Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Cowboys coach Todd Payten said he was looking for ball control from his side but they coughed it up on their opening two sets before the Dragons gifted them field position with back-to-back restarts.
Tom Dearden capitalised on the deep territory, putting Coen Hess through a hole before he offloaded to a surging Scott Drinkwater to plunge over.
The Cowboys were then back on the offensive as Dearden forced a goal-line dropout, with Drinkwater turning provider on the resulting set, grubbering to the in-goal for Peta Hiku to bag their second.
A penalty goal by Valentine Holmes made it 14-0 after 22 minutes before the Dragons had their first real crack at the line but Cody Ramsey's try was overturned due to obstruction.
Moments later the home side had their third after a deft pass by Taumalolo in midfield put Griffin Neame through a hole, he in turn finding a supporting Robson to score against his former club.
Moses Suli's try before halftime gave the Dragons some hope but the Cowboys kept them at arm's length to secure the win.
In a blemish for the Cowboys, they lost young-gun backrower Heilum Luki to a suspected ACL injury in the first half.