Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi made his State of Origin debut for Queensland unscathed with an impressive performance in the emphatic win over the Wests Tigers in the Magic Round Final at Suncorp Stadium.
Taulagi set up the game’s first try with a stunning finishing pass for Scott Drinkwater and added two more of his own as North Queensland cemented third place on the ladder with a comprehensive triumph.
Their 7-3 record puts them alone in third place, behind Premiers Penrith (9-1) and Melbourne (8-2) after the Panthers defeated the Storm on Saturday night.
In the seventh minute, it looked like Taulagi was going to be contacted just short of the line when Tigers halfback Jackson Hastings threw him over the sideline, but while nearly horizontal as he crashed on the grass, he sent the ball back inside. to a grateful Drinkwater, who retrieved it to mark intact.
The Tigers fought back via rookie winger Junior Tupou and makeshift center Luke Garner to take a 12-8 lead after Taulagi scored the first of his two four-pointers.
However, the Cowboys hit a double shot just before halftime with veteran winger Kyle Feldt and utility forward Reuben Cotter for a 20-12 advantage at the break.
When Taulagi scored his second try eight minutes into halftime, it looked like the Cowboys were going to kick things off and they did just that when center Peta Hiku burst in in the 57th minute.
The Tigers didn’t fold and had a few chances to cut the deficit, but North Queensland striker Jeremian Nanai iced the big win with his eighth try of the season.
Nanai and Cotter could also be in line for Queensland debuts when new manager Billy Slater announces his squad in a fortnight for the June 8 series opener against NSW at the Accor Stadium.
Michael Maguire’s Tigers are above Canterbury on the pros and cons scale with identical 2-8 records.