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Alex Mitchell

North Queensland down Sea Eagles, enter NRL top eight

North Queensland have continued their NRL resurgence with a hard-fought 19-8 win over Manly. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

North Queensland have continued their charge towards the NRL finals, racking up a fifth straight win with a 19-8 victory over Manly on the back of a stellar defensive showing.

The result on the road moves the Cowboys inside the top eight for the first time since their opening game of the year, the latest step in a remarkable turnaround from 16th on the ladder after round nine.

Coach Todd Payten conceded it was the type of defensive effort that last year's preliminary finalists had been sorely lacking in their 3-6 start to the campaign, the red-hot Cowboys hitting the business end of the season in top form on both sides of the ball.

"There were other parts of our game which were affecting our (defence), we put far too much pressure on defence by poor ball security and poor discipline," he said.

"We were having to do too much tackling and it just takes too much gas out of you.

"But things are changing with what we're doing with the ball, we're making better decisions.

"We showed a fair bit of character at different moments ... I didn't like the way we started the second half, some of our decisions put us under a fair bit of pressure.

"But then our (defence) held strong, so that's pleasing."

Fullback Scott Drinkwater made it five tries in his past four matches with the game-breaking play, slicing easily through the Manly line shortly before the hour to put the Cowboys 11 points ahead.

It was another monster night for the in-form No.1 who finished with 163 running metres.

Star centre Valentine Holmes, backed up from State of Origin duty in style with a stunning line break and try assist to go with his 183m.

A dour Sea Eagles unit lacked creativity in attack and was lucky to still be in the contest as North Queensland blew a string of chances in the first half that could have given them some breathing space.

Five-eighth Josh Schuster was well held outside of one second-half try assist and only ran the ball twice for the match but halfback Daly Cherry-Evans's boot kept the home side in touch.

"We were just a little bit off with our detail, a little bit clunky in attack down there and we need to be better than that," Manly coach Anthony Seibold said.

"Defensively they were pretty good, but some of our execution ... we weren't accurate with what we wanted to do attack-wise.

"Defensively, I felt like we turned up and we scrambled really hard, we saved some tries, but the disappointing thing is the three tries they did score were individual system errors."

Manly No.1 Reuben Garrick left the game early for a head injury assessment after taking a stray elbow from Coen Hess, but it allowed 25-year-old debutant Dean Matterson to score the opening try just minutes after entering the fray.

But the Cowboys finally sorted out some early execution errors and found the points their dominance deserved, Holmes pushing through the Manly line and finding Reuben Cotter to score before Jeremiah Nanai crossed from five-eighth Tom Dearden's well-executed assist.

Croker and Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic combined for 102 tackles and did everything they could to lift their side across the line.

The loss leaves Manly 11th on the ladder and three points outside the top eight with seven games to play.

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