A try-scoring double and a magnificent assist from North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi has helped the Cowboys claim a 36-12 win over the Wests Tigers.
In front of 43,401 fans in the final game of Magic Round at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, Taulagi was the star turn as he scored tries either side of halftime and set up Scott Drinkwater for a dazzling opening four-pointer.
The Tigers were up against it from the get-go and it didn't help that Michael Maguire's men lost five-eighth Luke Brooks (hamstring), hooker Jake Simpkin (concussion) and prop Zane Musgrove (pectoral).
The win consolidates third spot for the Cowboys and they will host Melbourne next Saturday night in Townsville with every belief they can trouble the Storm.
In a sign of how far the Cowboys have come in the past year under Todd Payten, Sunday's win was their seventh of the season - the same amount of games they won in the entirety of 2021.
"It's a good thing for the group," Payten said. "They've worked really hard, but we ain't done.
"I'm really excited about what's ahead of us and there's some real belief. It all comes off the back of hard work and I'm proud to coach them.
"We've got a great bunch of kids and our senior guys are doing a really good job."
They got off to a flying start when Taulagi was hassled into touch by Jackson Hastings at the cornerpost.
But in the magical moment of the weekend, the Cowboys winger instinctively lifted his feet and threw a speculative no-look offload back infield as he fell, with Drinkwater on hand to claim the try.
Tigers debutant Junior Tupou and Luke Garner responded before Taulagi finished a well-worked backline move with a one-handed put-down.
From there it was all downhill for the Tigers.
Simpkin went off after being trampled trying to make a tackle and tries to Kyle Feldt and Reuben Cotter helped the Cowboys hit the front foot before the break.
To make matters worse for the Tigers, Brooks pulled out of the second half with a hamstring problem and Musgrove went off with 20 minutes to go to leave Maguire with just 14 fit bodies.
"I'll always praise my team on the effort but there was some defensive stuff and the tries before half-time that put a fair bit of pressure on us," Maguire said.
"Whether we go down on men, I think these boys are very capable of making sure the points don't rack up like they did.
"They're working hard to be better defensively and take ownership of that. They don't look for an excuse and we lost a couple there but at times we missed the mark."
The pressure eventually began to tell when Taulagi added his second try, diving on a Chad Townsend grubberkick to the in-goal.
Peta Hiku crashed over with 20 minutes to play before Jeremiah Nanai further hammered home the Cowboys' advantage with an acrobatic catch to wrap up the game.
Australian Associated Press
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