An outstanding try-saving tackle from Tevita Pangai Junior ensured Brisbane Broncos got off the mark in the 2018 NRL season with a thrilling 24-20 win over North Queensland Cowboys.

The Broncos suffered a chastening 34-12 defeat to St George Illawarra Dragons in round one, but were much improved on Friday as they edged a fascinating contest.

After falling behind early when Jordan McLean stretched out his left arm superbly to score from a deflected Johnathan Thurston kick, Brisbane seized control with three tries in the space of nine first-half minutes, Pangai Junior, Tom Opacic and Alex Glenn all crossing in quick succession.

Thurston was typically influential and laid on scores for Gavin Cooper and Jake Granville, either side of a try for Kodi Nikorima that was set up by James Roberts' thrilling break, to keep the Cowboys in contention.

An inside pass from Thurston then looked to have put Scott Bolton under the posts with less than two minutes remaining, but Pangai Junior somehow forced the Cowboys forward into the right-hand post to prevent a seemingly certain try.

In Friday's other game, Sydney Roosters' marquee off-season recruits, Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco, linked up to good effect in a 30-12 win over Canterbury Bulldogs.

However, the Roosters' first win of the year was soured by a serious injury to Daniel Tupou, who suffered a torn pectoral.