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Of all the Tommy Raudonikis yarns spun this week, the old Chili hill tale from his Magpies coaching days rings loudest after the Cowboys rained all over his Leichhardt Oval send-off with a storied upset that at one point threatened to disintegrate into a record comeback.

The story of Raudonikis sitting atop a heartbreak hill in Campbelltown, out the back of Chili's steakhouse, his players running non-stop and ragged until he finished his six-pack, must surely have appealed to Michael Maguire more than once throughout this one.

His reserve-grade ranks certainly do after a stunningly bad 28-6 half-time deficit against a Cowboys side that was still yet to win since Todd Payten returned to Townsville.

"We've got to find our shoulders. That would be a good start," Maguire fumed afterwards when asked where to now for a Tigers side still wrestling with the same baffling form reversals that have been their hallmark for almost a decade.

Throughout a tense post-match media conference, Maguire's frustrations were palpable.

Tommy, god bless him, he would have let fly. Maguire bit his tongue publicly. In the sheds the emotions were on show more freely, five-eighth Adam Doueihi shedding tears after the tense 34-30 loss.

With everything to play for, and a rugby league icon to farewell, the Tigers simply didn't, for the first 40 minutes.

No one at the club was arguing with the boos from the Leichhardt faithful, which greeted the ground announcer's forlorn call for a "Tigers" chant and followed them into the sheds at half-time.

"The fans are riding this with us," Maguire said.

The Leichhardt faithful pay their respects to Raudonikis

"It was a special day today. I understand that and the players understand that. It was tough to take."

A standing ovation in the seventh minute marked the legendary Raudonikis's passing this week, with his old No.7 jersey retired across all four grades for the day.

Once the whistle sounded though the sell-out crowd had only forward passes out of dummy-half, arm grabbing tackles and costly fumbles from their side, putting North Queensland's first win at the venue since 2000 on a platter.

"Tommy would be embarrassed by youse… Cattledooooooog," mused one disgruntled fan as half-time loomed.

Just as it was when Tommy was in his prime, oh to be a fly on the wall during Maguire's half-time address.

Whatever was said or sprayed it sunk in eventually, because suddenly the Tigers started to swim against the tide.

For all of Scott Drinkwater's first half trickery, with two try-assists and another of his own, the Tigers answered in kind after the break.

Drinkwater with an epic solo effort

David Nofoaluma had a horror first 40 minutes, easily his worst in recent memory as Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Tualagi came calling repeatedly down his right edge and emerging with three tries between them.

It was Nofoaluma who started the fightback in the 52nd minute, getting one back when he latched onto an Adam Doueihi long ball.

Luke Brooks then threaded a grubber through for Luciano Leilua to reel it in and ground it down all with one very large left hand.

When Luke Garner hit and spun his way over, the Tigers had a third try in six minutes and only eight points left in the deficit.

For all the Tigers razzle dazzle though and the potential for a comeback for the ages, it mattered little to Maguire.

Wests Tigers: Round 5

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"I know I've got a team there, that's for sure," he said.

"We've got to make sure that the same attitude to our attack through that 20 minute period rolls through to our defence."

An obstruction ruling against James Roberts after Nofoaluma had scurried over gave North Queensland room to move just as the Tigers looked to be roaring home.

Lachlan Burr's charge for a rare four-pointer after another Cowboys bomb went down gave them more.

Some took issue with the Bunker's ruling obstruction against Roberts, telling in the wash-up of a four-point game. Not Maguire.

Burr scores to give Cowboys some breathing room

"34 points in the end. It wasn't a Bunker decision [that cost us]."

As is their wont, and as could only be the way on such a day, the Tigers and rugby league's higher powers kept it in the balance right until the end.

Talau got himself across the line twice late but on the second occasion put a boot across the sideline. And finally Joe Ofahengaue got himself into the in-goal, but all too late with just one minute to play.

The Cowboys held on to break Payten’s duck, doing it without $2.5 million of Michael Morgan, Jason Taumalolo and Josh McGuire if you don’t mind.

On a day where tributes were paid to one of the fullest lives lived in rugby league, this one had everything.

Just like Tommy, warts and all right to the end.