South Sydney moved back into the NRL top eight, punishing a slow-starting North Queensland to run out 20-16 winners at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Daylight saving might have ended a month ago but the Cowboys looked like they were still an hour behind at the kick-off, allowing the Rabbitohs to surge to an early 20-0 lead that proved just enough.
The Cowboys scored three second-half tries, including a double to Ashley Graham, to give themselves a chance of a dramatic comeback, but South Sydney’s start proved far too big.
The Rabbitohs kept pace with the clock over the opening quarter, the Cowboys paying dearly for a lack of discipline and soft goal-line defence.
The first two tries came directly on the back of offside penalties, while the efforts to stop Greg Inglis and Issac Luke from close range were dreadful.
Ray Thompson was out of his depth when he was left one-on-one facing up to Inglis after seven minutes, but even four defenders could not deny Luke in a trademark twisting effort from dummy half on 12 minutes.
Another penalty allowed the Rabbitohs to extend their advantage beyond two converted tries and they went within millimetres of going further in front when Nathan Merritt – playing his first game of 2012 after overcoming a toe injury – fumbled an athletic leap for a high ball.
It was a temporary moment of rest for the scoreboard attendant with Dave Taylor living up to his nickname as the ‘coal train’ rumbled over from close range.
The Cowboys finally were awarded their first penalty in the 24th minute, but it only served to help keep Souths at bay until the break.
Their ears ringing from a dressing down from coach Neil Henry, the Cowboys had more spark to their play when they resumed, and there was sign of life when James Segeyaro dived over seven minutes after the restart.
A penalty once again provided the impetus for another try, this time the Cowboys the beneficiaries as Graham did brilliantly to get under the defence for his first.
The visitors were full of running and it appeared 20 points wasn’t going to be enough for the Rabbitohs, but their excitement failed to match their execution as Matt Bowen’s long ball for an unmarked Graham found the sideline advertising.
The winger eventually scored his ninth try in eight games four minutes from the finish, but the Cowboys ran out of time to reel in the home side.