North Queensland overcame a mid-game slumber to maintain the rage in their pursuit of a top-four finish with a 32-22 win over a slumping St George Illawarra.
Needing a win to stay in touch with fourth-placed Manly - with the top four receiving a guaranteed second bite of the cherry under the new finals format - the Cowboys recovered from 22-18 down to move two competition points behind the reigning premiers and third-placed South Sydney.
The third-straight loss finally extinguished any chance the Dragons had of playing finals football.
The Dragons paid the price for a brain explosion from winger Daniel Vidot, who was sin-binned with his side leading by four just before the hour after unleashing a flurry of punches when he joined a fight involving Matt Cooper and James Tamou.
Cowboys prop Ricky Thorby was also sat down for ten minutes for joining the ruckus - and while the Dragons received the penalty for Tamou's instigation of the incident - it was the Cowboys who took advantage.
Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen, North Queensland's best two on the night, scored tries two minutes apart - Bowen's a long-range effort involving his five-eighth and centre Brent Tate.
By the time Vidot rejoined the fray with 16 minutes remaining, the Dragons were down by eight and the Cowboys had a spring in their step.
It spoiled a tremendous red and white recovery after the Cowboys had scampered from the gates to lead 12-0 after 15 minutes and 18-6 before the half hour.
They seemed in the mood to rack up a big total but with the Dragons befitting from a string of penalties, the tide turned and Mitch Rein and Vidot scored before the break - the latter's coming off a superb Jamie Soward long ball.
When Dan Hunt crashed over five minutes after the restart, the Dragons had the momentum before Vidot handed it back.