The iSelect Titans have gone down in their final hit out before the season opener against Cronulla when they were beaten by the North Queensland Cowboys 28-12 at Clive Berghofer Stadium, Toowoomba.

Johnathon Thurston, in his first hit-out since the World Cup, was primarily the difference between the two sides, throwing the final pass or kick for three of the Cowboys’ five tries. He took a while to ease himself into the match but some smart touches were telling.

The Titans used the game very much as a pre-season trial with coach John Cartwright giving several of those players trying to break into his side plenty of game time and at one stage of the match had Ashley Harrison, Greg Bird, Luke Bailey, Luke Douglas and impressive young Paul Carter off the field for 30 minutes, mostly together. He used 24 players.

Mark Ioane impressed with a strong individual try and halves Albert Kelly and Aidan Sezer had some good touches. Carter worried the Cowboys’ defence, laying on a try for Greg Bird and did his chances of making his NRL debut in the first round clash against the Sharks in the Monday night game in Sydney no harm.

The Cowboys led 10-6 at half-time after a willing first 40 minutes, scoring two tries to one.

Tariq Sims opened the scoring for the Cowboys when he went over after a fortunate bounce from a Johnathan Thurston side-kick near the Titans’ line saw the ball go to right winger Kyle Feldt who tipped the ball onto Sims who found the corner in the 12th minute. Thurston could not convert.

In the 20th minute Gold Coast co-captain Greg Bird put the Titans in front after hooker Paul Carter, one of the Titans’ best in the first half, had a dart from dummy half and when pushed back by the defence, sneaked out a good second-phase pass to Bird who was unstoppable from five metres out, leaving Aidan Sezer an easy conversion kick from the left of the posts.

Four minutes before the break, after play went up and down the field mostly off the back of penalties, Thurston – who was otherwise quiet – was responsible for his second try assist when he put big back-rower Jason Taumalolo in from a wonderful short ball 20m out. Thurston kicked the goal for the Cowboys to lead 10-6 at the break.

It took the Cowboys just seven minutes of the second half to go further ahead when Glenn Hall scored when he burst through from close to the line off a Thurston pass. The skipper’s conversion made it 16-6.

However it took the Titans only four minutes to strike back with a try to Mark Ioane from a determined run from 22m out, scoring under the posts. Sezer’s goal made it 16-12.

Left winger Anthony Winterstein looked to have out the result beyond doubt when he scored in the corner after a cut-out ball from Zac Santo went behind him but he still had time to pick up and score. Thurston’s kick from the touchline was a beauty and the Cowboys led 22-12 with 12 minutes remaining.

Good news for the Titans was that there were no injuries from the game.

North Queensland Cowboys 28 (T. Sims, J. Taumalolo, G. Hall, A. Winterstein, M. Morgan tries; J. Thurston 4 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 12 (G. Bird, M. Ioane tries; A. Sezer 2 goals). Crowd: 8532.