With the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Matt Scott absent, the Cowboys were narrowly beaten by the Dragons.
A depleted North Queensland Cowboys side missed out on the chance to move top of the NRL ladder as they suffered a 14-10 defeat to St George Illawarra Dragons on Saturday.
The reigning premiers were missing five players – including co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott – to State of Origin duty ahead of next week's opening match between Queensland and New South Wales, but nevertheless rallied from 10-0 down to level the scores heading into the final quarter.
However, Euan Aitken's 63rd-minute try ultimately proved decisive as the Dragons, whose only Origin absentee was Josh Dugan, climbed into the top eight.
Jason Nightingale shifted to full-back for the hosts with Dugan unavailable, while Kurt Mann was recalled on the left wing – and both men crossed in the opening 15 minutes either side of a 60-metre score for Cowboys centre Javid Bowen being ruled out by the video referee.
Kyle Feldt leapt high to touch down from a Lachlan Coote kick prior to the interval and the Cowboys were level when Ethan Lowe converted a fine individual try from Jahrome Hughes – making his first NRL appearance since he debuted for Gold Coast Titans in 2013.
The Cowboys were then denied another try by the video referee due to a knock-on before Aitken powered over for the match-winning score, with late pressure from the visitors going unrewarded.