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Bunker clanger helps Cowboys break Tigers hearts with controversial penalty after siren

North Queensland have survived to sink the Wests Tigers 27-26 with a penalty goal after the siren in the most controversial finish of 2022.

The last-placed Tigers looked to have produced the boilover of the season when they scored twice to lead the Cowboys 26-25 in a cliffhanger at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

But with the final kick-off of the game, the Bunker ruled Kyle Feldt was impeded in the chase for the ball by Asu Kepaoa even though replays appeared to indicate the Tigers centre was looking directly at the Steeden, not his opponent when they collided.

It was a terrible way for veteran prop James Tamou to end his 300th NRL game against the team where he won the 2015 Grand Final.

“That is garbage,” fumed Greg Alexander in Fox League commentary. “That’s a massive call.”

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Murray Taulagi of the Cowboys is tackled during the round 19 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Wests Tigers at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on July 24, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Murray Taulagi is tackled. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The Tigers went into the Townsville tussle with interim coach Brett Kimmorley stuck at home in Sydney in the midst of a seven-day isolation period after testing positive to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Assistant coaches Nathan Cayless and Ben Gardiner took charge in his absence and were off to a rough start on debut when the visitors conceded a soft try from the Cowboys’ first attacking set in the second minute.

Jason Taumalolo barged through a gap up the middle to combine with hooker Reece Robson, who put Maroons five-eighth Tom Dearden in next to the posts.

Wests responded when winger Brent Naden, returning after four-game dangerous throw ban, sprinted onto the end of a left-side raid after 12 minutes.

Nu Brown made it a surprise 12-6 lead midway through the first half from dummy-half after the Cowboys coughed up the pill on four occasions from their first eight sets. 

Jackson Hastings and Luke Brooks combined down the left edge to produce points for a second time with the halfback floating a perfect pass for an acrobatic Asu Kepaoa to touch down for a sweet 16-6 buffer.

The 10-point advantage was maintained seconds before half-time when Daine Laurie denied Kyle Feldt with a superb last-ditch touchline tackle.

It was easily the most polished 40-minute performance by the last-placed Tigers all season. And probably the Cowboys’ worst.

A contentious penalty against Tom Gilbert enabled the Tigers to stretch the gap to 12 but Valentine Holmes halved that in the 48th minute when he dived over from a Scott Drinkwater assist.

Brooks nearly swung the momentum back to the Tigers with a searching run but Naden fluffed the finish. The halfback missed a costly tackle soon after with Cowboys forward Jeremiah Nanai palming off Brooks to notch his 13th try of the season and square the ledger at 18-18 after 55 minutes.

Tigers winger Ken Maumalo was sin-binned a short time later when his shoulder charge clipped Dearden high.

Nanai was denied what would have been a club record 14th try in a season by a forward when Laurie spilt a bomb but hung onto his ankles before Brooks stripped it from him on the line.

He got over the stripe to claim the record after a careless Brooks pass ricocheted off Kelma Tuilagi into Nanai’s possession and he raced away under the posts for a 24-18 advantage heading into the final 10 minutes.

Holmes gave the Cowboys breathing room with a field goal but Naden plunged over for a second to give the Tigers a final sniff.

And they took it in sensational circumstances when Hastings put Laurie through and Starford To’a streaked away to put the underdogs up by a point with five seconds remaining, but unfortunately for them, it was not enough in the end.

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