Tigers v Cowboys: Five key points
The big names stepped up when it counted as the North Queensland Cowboys defied injuries and a poor record in Sydney to beat the Wests Tigers 22-14 at Campbelltown Stadium on Friday night.
Cowboys win big moments
Experienced campaigners Michael Morgan and Jake Granville came to the forefront with the game on the line and ultimately proved the difference.
The Cowboys were far from perfect but delivered the killer blow when it mattered most, which pleased coach Paul Green.
"The boys found a way to win which probably typifies our performances of the last five weeks," Green said.
"It was a huge effort. We played safety first at the start but we just need to back ourselves more."
Bittersweet night for departing Tigers
While their official final home game isn't until next week for the Wests Tigers faithful, it was the final time fans would see James Tedesco and Aaron Woods in the black and gold in Campbelltown.
After a barnstorming past fortnight, Tedesco could be forgiven for having a quieter game against the Cowboys with Paul Green's side containing the NSW fullback far better than his future club the Roosters did last week.
There was no questioning Woods' performance however with the West Tigers skipper chalking up 191 metres from 21 carries and the opening try of the contest.
Woods was asked post-game if it had sunk in that the end was near with only one game left before he heads to the Bulldogs in 2018.
"Not at all," Woods said.
"It's where I grew up and all that, but life throws you curve balls and you move on."
Cowboys move step closer to finals
North Queensland's win has all but secured them a finals spot with only the St George Illawarra Dragons in their way.
It would have been diabolical if the Cowboys dropped another game before their big clash with the Broncos in Townsville next Thursday, but Paul Green's men stormed home late and have eased the pressure with victory over the Wests Tigers in Campbelltown.
The only way the Cowboys can miss the eight now is if they lose to the Broncos and St George Illawarra knock over the Panthers and Bulldogs in the final two rounds.
"No one deserves to make the finals, it's a tough competition and you've got to work your butts off for a long period of time," Green said.
"There's been plenty of reasons for us throughout the year to just roll over but we haven't and the players deserve a rap."
Youth the positive for Tigers
Despite the lack of wins on the board, there is no denying the Wests Tigers have unearthed enough talent that will provide the squad with plenty of depth in 2018.
Back-rowers Michael Chee Kam and Esan Marsters have done a job for Ivan Cleary in 2017, shifting into the centres at various stages throughout the year, and were among the side's best against the Cowboys.
The mid-season signing of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak has provided a boost out wide after the club lost Jamal Idris and Moses Suli to injuries earlier in the year.
Former Panther Matt Eisenhuth chalked up 126 metres in a near 80-minute performance with Josh Aloiai not far behind and showing positive signs following a nasty knee injury mid-year.
"It was a pretty even contest, in the second half we didn't get a whole lot of opportunities," Cleary said.
"We're making progress. I was happy with the way we competed and played but it's disappointing to go through that [finish] again.
"We didn't handle the big moments in the last 20 minutes."
Rare Sydney victory for visitors
The Cowboys have found it tough in past history to knock over the Wests Tigers in Sydney but Campbelltown now proves a more even affair.
Not even a side boasting Johnathan Thurston in eight appearances has got the visitors over the line.
North Queensland have only beaten the Wests Tigers once at Leichhardt Oval (in 2000) from eight starts, but with victory on Friday night now boast an even record further south west with four wins and four losses at Campbelltown Stadium.