Wests Tigers Holden Cup side have produced a stirring second half comeback to defeat the North Queensland Cowboys 26-20 at 1300 SMILES Stadium tonight.
Losing fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen before kickoff, Chris Hutchison’s side were forced into a late reshuffle, with interchange half Josh Bermingham slotting in at fullback.
Those changes didn’t affect Wests Tigers early, with a sharp left edge move allowing Connelly Lemuelu to dive over after just four minutes to post first points of the day.
Blake Higgins was unable to convert from out wide, leaving the score at 4-0.
Wests Tigers looked to continue their impressive start as they marched down field on several occasions, but couldn’t find the final pass to further extend their lead.
That would prove costly for the visitors, who soon trailed 6-4 after Kurt Wiltshere showed great speed to get outside his man and cross under the posts.
Mitch Dunn’s simple conversion gave the hosts their first lead after 20 minutes.
Wests Tigers continued to let numerous chances go to waste in attack throughout the first half, with simple errors and good goal-line defence combining to keep them at bay.
That would ensure that the Cowboys’ 6-4 lead remained in tact, before a clever set piece just before half-time resulted in Marshall Hudson diving over to extend the advantage.
Dunn couldn’t convert from out wide, leaving the score at 10-4, before Daniel Peck crashed over right on the siren to cut the home side’s advantage to 10-8 at the break.
Dominating possession to start the second half, North Queensland would restore their lead through Cody Maughan, who crashed over to take the hosts’ lead to 16-8.
The home side appeared destined to extend their lead further but a stirring goal-line tackle from Jai Doolan in his first game back from injury saw Nathan Traill somehow stopped from scoring — giving Wests Tigers some much-needed momentum.
They would eventually claw their way down field and, after a good late offload from Thomas Mikaele, cross through Corey Kurnoth next to the posts, with Higgins’ conversion from next to the uprights making it 16-14 after 59 minutes.
Full of running, Wests Tigers would sensationally take the lead shortly after — reacting quickest to a deflected grubber in the in-goal to take a 20-16 lead with 15 to play.
The visitors made it three tries in the space of 10 minutes when Liam Pakau scooped up a kick that was allowed to bounce by the Cowboys, with Higgins’ strong second half with the boot continuing to push Wests Tigers lead to 26-16 inside the final 10 minutes.
Hudson’s second try of the night with seven minutes remaining would ensure a grandstand finish at 1300 SMILES Stadium, but Hutchison’s side showed tremendous resolve in defence to hold firm and emerge from Townsville with a six-point victory.
Wests Tigers 26 (Lemuelu, Peck, Kurnoth, Pakau, unknown tries; Higgins 3/5 goals) def. Cowboys 20 (Hudson 2, Wiltshere, Maughan tries; Dunn 2/4 goals)