Australian Schoolboy Keano Kini lit up Cbus Super Stadium with an electrifying hat-trick for the Future Titans Under 19s, but it wasn't enough to stop a resurgent North Queensland from taking home a 34-26 victory in an exciting curtain-raiser clash at the weekend.
Fresh from helping Queensland win the ASSRL National Championships, the exciting and speedy fullback zoomed away to a quick-fire triple in the first half, as well as helping provide plenty of talk out the back to earn Macca's player of the match honours in the contest.
In what was a physical affair between the next generation of Queensland talent, another shining light in the clash was ball-playing lock Jack Cullen, who exploded out the blocks with plenty of line-speed, aggression and energy in the first 20 minutes.
"It was very physical. They just got us in the back-end of halves I guess and we just couldn't hold on," Cullen said after full-time.
"It was definitely a very quick and physical contest and I thought the boys put in a good effort.
"I thought our effort areas were really nice, but we just couldn't get the win at the end of the day."
Spending the pre-season with the Titans' first grade side on a train-and-trial deal, the Future Titans product was proud to pull on the sky blue and gold and run out at the home of the Gold Coast, wanting to show the Legion of fans what the future holds for their NRL side.
"I think it's a bit of a privilege to wear this jersey," Cullen shared.
"Obviously, we're not doing too great in the NRL at the moment, so we wanted to show the club and the fans that there's a future coming up here.
"We got a fairly good crowd and there was good support from those who came out to have a look.
"I think we've had a good few weeks of training and we've built a bit of a culture together, but I'm pretty disappointed we didn't get the win."
As a Cudgen Hornets junior, the 19-year-old was also proud to be playing alongside a number of his Northern New South Wales teammates, including Oskar Bryant, Jaylan De Groot, Tom Weaver and Ryan Foran.
"They've been my best mates since I've been about 9 or 10 years old, so to put on the same jersey as them is special and it's even more special playing at the same club with the Titans logo on our chest," Cullen said.
"It's really special and I can't really say much more about the honour."
After a hard and fast start by both teams, the North Queensland Cowboys were first to cross when a shift through the hands saw right edge winger Vinjenzo Winterstein score untouched in the corner in only the seventh minute of the game to lead 6-0.
Competing hard to level the scores, it was man of the match Kini, who showed a clean pair of heels to run 70 metres - beating three defenders including fullback Lachlan Lerch with fancy footwork to square the ledger, thanks to a Tom Weaver special from the chalk on the western side in the 11th minute.
In the next set after points, Cullen broke through the line and offloaded to the 18-year-old speedster who was running in support and found the line with ease, completing a two-try haul in quick succession to guide his side to a 12-6 lead.
The Future Titans had their opponents by the scruff of the neck and further points ensued in the 22nd minute when a skilful offload from Kaleb Ngamanu saw the talented No. 1 come up with possession and score his third in the corner, with Weaver's pinpoint accuracy jettisoning the lead to two converted tries in the final stages of the first half.
Nearing half-time, the Cowboys activated their lethal shift again, this time towards the left, allowing Jacob Mene to score, running back in-field and improving his position, although Tom Duffy missed the kick to leave the margin at 18-10 at the break.
Into the second 35 and North Queensland were quick to close the gap when another shift towards the left edge left the Future Titans shot for numbers, with Ragarive Wavik crossing to make it only a two-point ball game with 30 minutes to play.
Further points came for the visitors only minutes later when crafty No. 9 Jai Hansen came up with a traditional dummy-half try to take the lead, with Duffy adding the extras to make it 22-18.
With a parochial crowd behind the home side, the Titans hit back to level the game when a shift to the left edge allowed Jaylan De Groot to score the first of his double in the 50th minute.
With the scores deadlocked, a crucial Weaver bomb two sets later led to Lerch spilling the ball, and the Titans capitalised when the man who loves to score four-pointers at Cbus - De Groot - crossed for his double. A heart-breaking deflection off the steelwork in the conversion attempt left the score at 26-22 with 17 minutes to play.
Despite throwing everything in the final stages of the game, the Cowboys re-gained the lead when Hansen found a supporting Zack Lamont to creep ahead 28-26, and in the final play, Matthew Hunter sealed the match with a breakaway try underneath the posts to finish the game ahead 34-26.
In the earlier Under 17 Future Titans clash against the Northern Rivers Under 18s, it was a 32-8 victory to the home side with Sam Stephenson starring, earning the Macca's player of the match in that contest.