Coming off back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Warriors, Todd Payten's men were forced to dig deep after they trailed 8-0 in the shadows of half-time.
The Titans drew first blood in just the fourth minute when winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira finished off a slick right side raid, taking the final pass from David Fifita and touching down for his fourth try of the season. Tanah Boyd's conversion made it 6-0.
A double blow for the Titans midway through the half with fullback AJ Brimson (hamstring) and five-eighth Kieran Foran (calf) both leaving the field within the space of 90 seconds.
A penalty against Cowboys fullback Tom Chester for a strip handed Boyd an easy two points and the visitors led 8-0.
The Cowboys had several chances to open their account and the pressure finally told in the 36th minute when Chad Townsend put Jeremiah Nanai over from close range. Val Holmes added the extra to make it 8-6 at the break.
When veteran prop James Tamou crashed over in the 45th minute the Cowboys had the lead and all the momentum against the undermanned Titans.
Five minutes later the Cowboys went further ahead when Holmes intercepted a long ball by Boyd and outpaced Jayden Campbell on an 80-metre run to the tryline to make it 18-8.
Refusing to lie down the Titans headed left through skipper Tino Fa'asuamaleaui who delivered a great offload to David Fifita and he put Khan-Pereira away another four-pointer.
A shot clock violation against the Cowboys for failing to feed the scrum in time let the Titans off the hook with 17 minutes to play but the Titans were unable to capitalise.
Both sides then lost their way in attack with a number of errors creeping into the game before a bizarre try to Chester gave the home side the breathing space they needed with six minutes to play.
An offload by Heilum Luki hit Chester in the head and then went down onto his boot and rolled towards the line where Campbell failed to clean up and Chester won the scramble for the ball. Holmes' conversion made it 24-12.
The Titans mounted a couple of late raids but the Cowboys hung on to make it 13 wins from their past 16 games against the Titans.
Adding merit to the Cowboys' win was the fact they finished the night with one man on the bench after Murray Taulagi (knee), Gehamat Shibasaki (hamstring) and Tamou (foot) all suffered injuries.
- Moeaki Fotuaika was immense for the Titans in the first half with 126 metres from 11 runs.
- Jeremiah Nanai enjoyed a great night for the Cowboys with a try, 103 run metres, three tackle breaks and a line break.
- Titans halfback Tanah Boyd had a streak of 12 goals in succession going until he missed the conversion of Alofiana Khan-Pereira's try from wide out in the 57th minute.
- Tino Fa'asuamaleaui led by example for the Titans with 21 runs for 200 metres.
- The Titans have won only one of their past 12 games in Townsville
- Winger Phil Sami was a tackle busting machine for Gold Coast, coming up with 10 tackle breaks to go with 137 running metres.
- Cowboys back-rower Jeremiah Nanai was put on report and sin binned in the 59th minute for a dangerous tackle.
- Cowboys centre Valentine Holmes has scored nine tries from 12 games against the Titans.
Play of the Game
Back at the Cowboys after six seasons, 34-year-old James Tamou is savouring every minute on the paddock in Todd Payten's line-up. A member of the club's 2015 premiership side, Tamou played 170 games for the Cowboys between 2009-16 before heading to the Panthers. In the 45th minute of a tight contest he powered over from close range to give his team the lead but he was forced off soon after with a foot injury to put a dampener on his night.
What They Said
"Really pleased to get away with a win. We finished the game with one on the bench, we had 12 men for 10 minutes and won the game off the back of some defence. Really pleased with the way that we competed, even on that last try Tommy Chester just fought and fought until he got his hands on the ball. I thought all the bench was really good, we didn't lose any momentum when they went on. We were strong through that middle part of the game." - Cowboys coach Todd Payten
"We created enough chances we just panicked a little bit at times but to have to deal with that [the loss of Brimson and Foran] for 60 minutes was really tough and it was probably the difference in the end but so much to be proud of the 15 boys that did what they did. It's Kieran's calf and AJ's hamstring and they are never easy injuries to come back from in a short time." - Titans coach Justin Holbrook
The Cowboys are in Sydney for a clash with the Bulldogs while the Titans get the bye in Round 5 before hosting the Dragons at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 6.
Story first published on NRL.com