A spirited 80 minutes from the Wests Tigers has earned them a top-eighth berth after downing North Queensland 26-14 at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
With the Tigers up by six and the game still on the line in the final minute, fullback James Tedesco produced one of the most impressive solo tries you could possibly imagine to seal the win and send the pulsating Leichhardt hill into raptures.
On a day that saw prodigal son Jarryd Hayne return to the NRL for his new team Gold Coast, Tedesco's try harked back to Hayne's famous 2009 try at Kogarah on his team's unlikely run to that year's decider.
Tedesco beat most of the Cowboys team on a tackle-busting surge to the line after his team looked to have the game won once or twice only for the premiers to refuse to buckle.
While the premiers looked a bit off the pace throughout – particularly in a lacklustre first half – they largely only played as well as their opponents allowed them to.
The Tigers threw themselves into their defence right from the opening whistle and hassled the Cowboys constantly, throwing a ton of kick pressure at star halfback Johnathan Thurston in his return from a hamstring injury and defending their edges impressively.
In the absence of halfback Luke Brooks, in-form pivot Mitch Moses again stepped up to control proceedings, taking plenty of good options, while powerhouse winger David Nofoaluma had a wonderful afternoon.
The Cowboys lifted their game somewhat in the second half after only trailing 12-6 at the break, particularly in a strong defensive set around 15 minutes after the break and looked to have scored through Javid Bowen but for a wonderful try-saving tackle from Jordan Rankin and James Tedesco.
The Tigers responded with a couple of huge plays to force errors and stretched their lead beyond a converted try via a penalty goal with just under 15 minutes to play.
The Cowboys hit back with a penalty of their own to keep things tense before a Jason Taumalolo line break sent a scare through the parochial home crowd but again the Tigers scrambled and hung on.
A Sauaso Sue try from an Aaron Woods short ball in the 73rd minute looked to have finished the contest at 20-12 but the Cowboys earned possession from a short restart and after several repeat sets Ethan Lowe scored to set up the grandstand finish.
The home side should have taken more than a six-point lead to the break after easily dominating the first 40 minutes. They twice opted for penalty goals with a full attacking set in the offing but Moses missed both conversion attempts meaning a potentially greater half-time lead was trimmed back to 12-6.
The Cowboys looked lacklustre throughout with a number of uncharacteristic errors – particularly in their own half – inviting the Tigers to press their line while the home side completely out-enthused the visitors when it came to running and tackling.
Good intent from centre Kevin Naiqama saw him win the race to a Mitch Moses grubber to open the scoring in the sixth minute but it was the only try of the opening 20 minutes, though Mitch Moses added a penalty goal in the 19th minute when the Tigers opted to turn down an attacking set.
An error from the ensuing set allowed the Cowboys a foothold back in the game and a perfect Thurston grubber sat up nicely for Kane Linnett to level the scores.
The Cowboys continued to shoot themselves in the foot; a Michael Morgan cut-out pass sailed in front of three outside men into touch and Jake Granville bobbled it at dummy-half while Thurston twice succumbed to immense kick-pressure to put attacking kicks out on the full.
Some dangerous runs from David Nofoaluma and James Tedesco coming out of trouble continually helped the home side start sets on the front foot and next points came when Nofoluma bashed his way through four defenders after receiving a nice Moses cut-out in the 31st minute. A 38th minute Moses penalty goal was the final scoring play of the first 40.
The result puts the Tigers into eight position and means the premiers will finish the round outside the top four. In a further headache for coach Paul Green, prop Ben Hannant was taken from the field with a potentially serious knee injury.
Wests Tigers 26 (Naiqama, Nofoaluma, Sue, Tedesco tries; Moses 5/7 goals) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 14 (Linnett, Lowe tries; Thurston 3/3 goals)