Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire has praised Luke Brooks for his leadership after making a trysaving tackle that led to him being sin-binned as his side hung to defeat North Queensland 24-16 in Townsville.
Brooks, who laid on two of the Tigers' five tries, was sin-binned in the 78th minute for a professional foul after stopping Cowboys centre Daejarn Asi just short of the line and ripping the ball from his grasp.
Deputising for injured skipper James Tamou, Brooks became the first local junior to captain the Tigers to a win since Robbie Farah in round15 of the 2019 season but he endured a nervous wait to see if his team-mates could keep their finals hopes alive.
“The tackle that Brooksy made, I know he ended up getting sent off there but they are massive moments," Maguire said.
"That is the stuff you need to do. Sometimes you have a bumbling game but those sorts of plays are the big ones that allow you to get the two points.
Match: Cowboys v Wests Tigers
Round 22 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
"I thought Brooksy was really strong with his voice out there. You could really see him barking orders and he could probably feel the fact that we were putting pressure on ourselves.
"It was getting pretty close there, with Brooksy saving that try."
Cowboys halfback Tom Dearden had scored only minutes before Brooks' desperate play to stop Asi after the Tigers had dominated most of the match.
Five-eighth Adam Doueihi made five line breaks and also produced two try assists as the Tigers hung on to move within two points of the top eight following losses by the Raiders and Titans.
“It was very scrappy but to find a way to win is something that this team needs and to do it two weeks in a row is what we have been hunting for," Maguire said. "Now we have got to turn up and do it again next week.
“We have got to learn to be more thorough with the things we are doing in attack because we are just putting so much pressure on ourselves but it is an easy fix if we want it to be and we can turn that around and play a really good brand of footy.
“The boys when they are playing their style they can control the game."
The Tigers led 12-6 at half-time after a mistake-ridden opening term in which they completed just 14 of their 21 sets of possession and had little field position but managed three line breaks and 20 tackle breaks.
In contrast, North Queensland’s last-tackle options were poor and their attack was clunky as they failed to capitalise on the eight errors, four penalties and three repeat sets conceded by the Tigers.
Stefano Utoikamanu scored the opening trying after seven minutes when Brooks held up a pass for the Tigers prop to charge on to near the Cowboys line and five-eighth Adam Doueihi converted to give the visitors a 6-0 lead.
Long shift left ends up with Maumalo diving over
Kiwi winger Ken Maumalo crossed for his fifth try in seven matches for the Tigers since making a mid-season switch from the Warriors after a cut-out pass from fullback Moses Mbye in the 20th minute.
However, the lead reduced to just six points when 18-year-old forward Jeremiah Nanai scored with his first touch in the NRL just before halftime.
Fellow North Queensland debutant Griffin Neame threw the final pass for Nanai after winger Kyle Feldt kicked a loose ball infield and it bounced up perfectly for hooker Reece Robson, who passed quickly to the 20-year-old Kiwi prop.
The Tigers were in control for most of the second half, completing 17 of their 19 sets of possession and scoring two tries to take a 24-6 lead.
Former Melbourne second-rower Kelma Tualagi, who was playing just his third NRL match, ran through Robson and Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes after receiving a short ball from Brooks near the North Queensland line to score in the 58th minute.
Hampton puts Dearden under the posts
Centre Tommy Talau appeared to have put the result beyond doubt eight minutes later when he finished off a backline movement involving Brooks, Mbye and Doueihi but Dearden gave Cowboys fans a faint hope of a late comeback when he scored in the 74th minute.
The sin-binning of Brooks gave the Cowboys an opportunity to snatch an unlikely win and winger Ben Hampton scored after they spread the ball from one side of the field to the other from the 78th minute penalty.
Holmes missed the conversion but he had another opportunity to put North Queensland within striking distance after Jake Simpkin was penalised for a late tackle on Dearden – only to hit the uprights with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
Kelma Tuilagi gets his first try in the NRL