Fullback Valentine Holmes has thwarted NZ Warriors in their bid for a comeback victory over North Queensland Cowboys, potting a last-minute field goal for victory at Townsville.
Trailling 22-6 at halftime, the Warriors piled on 22 unanswered points to edge ahead late in the second half and seemed to have the contest under control in the dying moments.
But Cowboys winger Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow sprinted 80 metres for a try that Holmes converted to level the scores late, before Holmes struck the the killer blow for a 29-28 win.
The result deprives the Warriors of their first consecutive wins of the NRL season and sees them slide further from a top-eight playoff spot on the ladder.
But the seeds of their undoing were sown in an ill-disiplined opening half that will likely cost players their starting spots, when the Warriors return from next week's State of Origin bye.
Centre Euan Aitken actually had them ahead after just three minutes, but the kicking game of Cowboys halves Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford had the defence under pressure, forcing goal-line dropouts at the end of their sets.
By contract, the Warriors could not take advantage of their ventures into North Queensland territory and the home side were next to score, when winger Kyle Feldt was given room on the right touchline to score in the corner.
They seized the lead, when Holmes put Murray Taulagi over in the left corner and a couple of minutes later, the entire match was tipped on its head through Warriors errors that put them under incredible pressure.
First, young forward Eliesa Katoa attempted an ill-advised offload that gifted possession to the Cowboys possession. Then, Jazz Tevaga charged out of the defensive line to put a late hit on Heilum Luki, which turned into 10 minutes in the bin, when referee Matt Cecchin ruled the tackle caused a whiplash effect on Luki's neck.
The Warriors held on for five minutes, before another loose pass from Katoa and a crusher tackle by Adam Pompey gifted their opponents an opportunity too good to turn down. On the last tackle, Clifford grubbered behind the goal-line and outsprinted Katoa to touch down.
Within seconds, Cowboys hooker Reece Robson offloaded on halfway and found Drinkwater, who brushed off a Reece Walsh and sprinted away to score. During Tevaga's absence, his short-handed team conceded two converted tries and had their backs against the wall.
After the break, the Warriors turned their performance around, with a second try to Aitken, and others to Walsh, Marcelo Montoya and Ben Murdoch-Masila to snatch the lead.
Walsh was again outstanding on attack, running 230 metres and assisting on Montoya's try with trademark long pass to his winger, but he missed the tackle on Drinkwater and was wrongfooted by Tabuai-Fidow on his matchsaving effort.
The teenager was also battered physically by the Cowboys forwards, just a preview of what he can expect, if he gets an early State of Origin call-up for Queensland.
The Warriors began playing for territory, trying to pin North Queensland deep in their own half, but Tabuai-Fidow's breakout proved their undoing.
Chanel Harris-Tavita had an prime opportunity to snatch victory with a field goal, but hooked his close-range attempt wide-left.
Holmes, who provided the winning kick against Brisbane Broncos three weeks ago, repeated that dose from just inside the 40m two-point line.
The Warriors now have two weeks off, before regrouping to take on Melbourne Storm at Gosford on June 13.
North Queensland Cowboys 29 (Feldt, Drinkwater, Clifford, Tabuai-Fidow & Taulagi tries; Holmes 4 conversions & drop goal) NZ Warriors 28 (Aitken 2, Montoya, Murdoch-Masila & Walsh tries; Nikorima 4 conversions)