Johnathan Thurston has steered the Cowboys to a 20-12 NRL win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium with Matthew Wright scoring two tries.

North Queensland’s trademark charge for the NRL finals is well and truly underway after they defeated Canterbury 20-12 at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

The win was a rare back-to-back victory in Sydney for the Cowboys after their breakthrough 36-18 defeat of Cronulla last week, their first away win this season.

With playmaker Johnathan Thurston instrumental and Matthew Wright scoring a double, the Cowboys have pushed into the top eight for the first time since round 10.

It was their first defeat of the Bulldogs in Sydney since 2004 and their first win at the Olympic venue since 2006.

A Thurston penalty goal sealed the win, and successive losses for the Bulldogs after their last start thrashing to Wests Tigers, in the 78th minute after the Cowboys controlled much of the contest for the 20 minutes either side of halftime.

Canterbury dominated the early exchanges in front of 9873 fans and took advantage in the 13th minute when Mitch Brown crossed for the opener out wide.

But from then it was mostly the Cowboys with winger Wright scoring two tries in four minutes to put the visitors 10-0 ahead on the half hour mark.

Fill-in centre Moses Mbye’s poor read in defence opened the way for Wright’s first, a brilliant Thurston chip kick creating his second.

A Thurston penalty goal a minute before the break put the Cowboys ahead 12-6.

North Queensland picked up where they left off after halftime when Antonio Winterstein scored out wide with Thurston throwing the try assist with a lovely long ball.

The Queensland playmaker’s conversion put the Cowboys ahead 18-6 with 31 minutes to play.

The Bulldogs then slowly but surely ground their way back into the match and Josh Jackson was rewarded when he scored in the 61st minute with Trent Hodkinson delivering the line break assist and the try assist, before a gritty Cowboys held out in the final quarter of the match.

Cowboys prop James Tamou was taken to hospital for scan on a neck injury he suffered in the 18th minute.

Bulldogs utility Tony Williams was put on report for a 34th minute high tackle on Robert Lui.

The Cowboys have form making a late run for the finals, having won six straight to make last year’s playoffs.

The loss puts the Dogs in third behind Manly and Penrith.

Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston was happy with the way his side defended their lead late in the game.

“We have snuck into the top eight. The challenge now is to back that up,” he said.

“It was important for us, especially with the troops we had out to get back-to-back wins.

“We didn’t start very well but, in the middle of the game, we had a high completion rate and, in the end of the game, we tackled our butts off, so there were a lot of pleasing aspects.”

Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was disappointed with Canterbury’s failure to take their chances especially late in the game.

“I thought we had plenty of opportunities there but we just didn’t execute well enough, particularly at the start of the second half,” he said.

“Obviously, we need some players back in key positions and they should start coming back soon and we need to consolidate that.

“It was certainly an opportunity for us tonight.”