Producing three tries in the final 15 minutes to overcome an eight-point deficit, the North Queensland Cowboys have outlasted the Wests Tigers 22-14 in front of 9,346 fans at Campbelltown Stadium.
In a match where neither side was able to seize the ascendancy for the first 65 minutes, the Cowboys displayed the desperation needed to break a four-game losing streak to set up a tantalising derby against their Queensland rivals Brisbane next Thursday.
Coming into the match in desperate need of a win, the Cowboys were boosted by the late inclusions of Lachlan Coote and Gavin Cooper, while the omissions of Luke Brooks and Kevin Naiqama ultimately proved pivotal for the Tigers.
With both sides struggling to acclimatise to the conditions early on, a show and go from captain Aaron Woods saw the Tigers open the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Shortly after Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin replicated the efforts of the Tigers skipper to respond for the visitors, while a charging run from Josh Aloiai saw the home side take a slender 10-6 lead into the change of ends.
Sitting on the edge of missing the finals with the Dragons and Raiders nipping at their heels, the Cowboys started the second half strongly, but were unable to take advantage of their opportunities.
Appearing to withstand all the Cowboys had to offer, the Tigers looked to have struck a crucial blow with a try to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak midway through the second half, but in an ironic twist for the home side it proved to be the catalyst for a North Queensland comeback.
Hitting the front courtesy of a brace from Kyle Feldt in as many minutes, the Cowboys were positioned for victory heading into the final ten minutes, which became realised just before fulltime when Michael Morgan was on the spot to complete a remarkable turnaround for the visitors.
Having endured a tumultuous season, the immediate disappointment of losing will be mitigated by the vast improvement shown by the Tigers under Ivan Cleary, in a sign better days lay ahead for the joint venture.
For the visitors the stakes of the match brought out the best in the side, however after narrowly managing to hold off the lowly-placed Tigers, expectations of proceeding past the first week of the finals appear slim.
Next week the Tigers will farewell James Tedesco and Aaron Woods at Leichhardt Oval against the Warriors on Sunday night, while the Cowboys face the Broncos in Townsville on Thursday.