SYDNEY - Benji Marshall bounced back to form as the Wests Tigers inflicted North Queensland's sixth straight loss with a 40-16 win in their NRL match at Campbelltown Stadium last night.
The Tigers ran in seven tries to three against their understrength opponents, who were missing a host of key stars through suspension, injury and State of Origin duty.
Dean Collis, Shannon McDonnell, Mathew Head and Ben Te'o all scored first-half tries as the home side raced to a 22-0 lead but the Cowboys fought back and were still in the game trailing 28-16 with ten on the clock.
But Marshall then stepped his way to the line to score a spectacular try from 30 metres out to put the result beyond doubt.
He then had several hands in a remarkable length-of-the field team try in the dying minutes, providing the last pass to Brett Hodgson to put the icing on the cake for the Tigers.
It was a welcome to return to form for Marshall, who came under fire from coach Tim Sheens a fortnight ago after a series of below-par performances following his recovery from another off-season shoulder surgery.
The New Zealand star was notably more confident with the ball in hand, showing his trademark step on several occasions and defended gallantly throughout.
With the Cowboys trailing 22-0, rookie backrower Nick Slyney scored just before halftime and Ty Williams added another just after the break to give the visitors some hope.
Chris Heighington pounced on a loose ball and scored in the 51st to give the Tigers some breathing space but Cowboys centre Ben Harris scored ten minutes later to keep the game alive.
But the Tigers fought on and Marshall was instrumental in their strong finish to the game.
The win moves the Tigers into the NRL's top eight and leaves North Queensland languishing in second-last only two competition points ahead of South Sydney.
Making matters even worse for North Queensland, their stand-in halfback Travis Burns was placed on report twice in the first half for two separate dangerous tackles and was lucky not to be sent off.
The first was an eighth-minute high shot on Taniela Tuiaki, who was forced from the field and did not return, while the NRL match review panel will also look at a dangerous throw by Burns on Chris Lawrence.
Sheens praised Marshall's performance, saying he set the standard for his involvement by making a run from dummy half in the second play of the game.
Marshall said he had planned to be more positive going into the game.
"Just getting involved as early as I (could), I felt like I was in the game the whole way through," Marshall said.
"This week I was more upbeat about running the ball more, getting tackled and getting involved in the game.
"So if I keep running the ball and getting tackled a few more times I'm sure my confidence will keep getting higher and higher."
But Sheens was angry at referee Gavin Badger's failure to control the play the ball, saying there was "that much laying on the tackle" and it was "obvious" what North Queensland were trying to do.
"(Badger) said before the game to the skippers that he wanted an open game," Sheens said.
"But to get an open game ... you get that by cleaning up the play-the-ball.
"Someone had to go to the bin in my opinion."
Sheens declined to comment on Burns' tackles only offering: "I'm disappointed we finished with sixteen men," while Hodgson described the incident as "pretty ordinary."
He said Tuiaki was "crook" but could recover in time for next Sunday's match against Parramatta.
The Cowboys will equal their longest losing streak since 1999 if they fail to beat Newcastle at home on Monday week.
"We just weren't consistent enough in our overall game to apply some pressure to them," Cowboys coach Ian Millward said of tonight's effort.