North Queensland Cowboys defeat Wests Tigers 36-12 in NRL Magic Round finale as Sydney Roosters and Canberra Raiders enjoy wins
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.
Earlier on the final day of Magic Round in Brisbane, the Sydney Roosters prevailed against Parramatta to win 31-24, while Canberra scored an upset 30-10 triumph over Cronulla.
In front of 43,401 spectators at Lang Park, Taulagi was the star turn as he scored a try either side of half-time break and set up Scott Drinkwater for a dazzling opening four-pointer.
The Tigers were up against it from the start and it did not help that Michael Maguire's team 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 matches they won in 2021.
They got off to a flying start when Taulagi was hassled into touch by Jackson Hastings at the corner post.
But in a breathtaking moment, the Cowboys winger instinctively lifted his feet and threw a speculative no-look offload back in field 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 getting trampled trying to make a tackle, and in the five-minute window before half-time the Cowboys got on the front foot.
Kyle Feldt strolled over untouched and Reuben Cotter went steaming up the middle, selling Tigers fullback Starford To'a with a dummy before touching down under the posts.
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 players.
The pressure eventually began to tell when Taulagi added his second try, diving on a Chad Townsend grubber 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 match.
Roosters hold off Eels
The Roosters defied a Mitchell Moses-inspired Parramatta fightback, with Joseph Suaalii starring in their win.
Victor Radley (ankle) was a casualty of the victory, which came after an inspired Eels comeback led by Moses just when the result looked secure.
The Roosters' success ensured both sides finished 10 rounds with 6-4 win-loss records as the fight for a top-four spot intensified.
The Eels, who beat ladder leaders Penrith last week, could not convert their mass of possession late in the first half.
Sam Walker's field goal and Suaalii's try either side of half-time seemingly killed off the contest, until the Roosters' 19-point margin was cut to seven in just three minutes.
Moses put Isaiah Papali'i through a gap for his second try, then produced a magical effort down the right wing to cross in a brilliant solo performance.
Ryan Matterson then stepped through four tacklers to score under the posts and make it a one-point match with 20 minutes to play.
But Suaalii literally popped up again, flying high to collect an AFL-like mark from Luke Keary's bomb and score his fifth try in three matches.
A penalty goal then gave the Roosters a seven-point buffer they clutched tightly through the last five minutes.
Earlier, Radley's ankle felt the weight of a tackler, the lock limping off and being scheduled for scans amid fears of a syndesmosis injury that could sideline him for at least a month.
His absence was not felt heavily in the first half, with Sam Walker's kicking game at the centre of the Roosters' carve-up.
First, a clunky grubber kick fooled Eels fullback Clint Gutherson, with James Tedesco winning the race to the ball.
His second was just as potent, collecting his own kick in behind, which exposed their numerical advantage with Tom Opacic in the sin-bin for a professional foul.
Raiders shut down Sharks
The Raiders secured their biggest victory of the season and grabbed back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
It was an ugly performance from the high-flying Sharks, but the major concern for coach Craig Fitzgibbon will be a concussion sustained by skipper Dale Finucane.
Josh Papalii greeted Finucane with a powerful hit and the Sharks number 13 rode the collision, only to be met by Elliot Whitehead's shoulder.
Finucane, unsteady on his feet, was in no condition to carry on as referee Liam Kennedy sent Whitehead to the sin-bin.
Finucane failed his HIA for the fourth time in the last two seasons and the latest concussion will undoubtedly worry Cronulla.
Canberra was at one point reduced to 11 players after Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Corey Horsburgh were both sent to the sin-bin either side of the half-time break.
The Sharks, who shifted Nicho Hynes to fullback to cover for Will Kennedy's suspension, never got going. They had 60 per cent of possession in the second half but could only score when Canberra were a player down.
Hynes played most of his football at fullback for the Melbourne Storm last year but he had a moment to forget when he dropped a Brad Schneider bomb with Papalii crashing over on the next set for the Raiders.
The Raiders also capitalised on a series of backline blunders from Cronulla's Sione Katoa.
The winger was a target for halfback Matt Frawley's kicking with Sebastian Kris and Corey Harawira-Naera scoring tries on the back of his errors.
Canberra lost Nicoll-Klokstad for a professional foul just before half-time but it was not until the 54th minute when Horsburgh was this time in the sin-bin that Katoa opened the scoring for the Sharks.
The only other Cronulla try was a crash ball from Royce Hunt in the final minute that Whitehead was off the field.
Schneider, who had scored a first-half penalty, bagged a try late on to ensure the Raiders secured a second-straight win. Hudson Young crossed for a breakaway try for the Raiders.