Madge hands Tigers post-match spray while Taulagi stakes Origin claim after wonder try

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire has laid down the law to his men after their 36-12 defeat to the North Queensland Cowboys in the Magic Round finale at Suncorp Stadium.

The Tigers lost Luke Brooks, Jake Simpkin and Zane Musgrove to injury but Maguire still gave his team both barrels in the sheds after a poor defensive effort that saw the Cowboys run away with the game late on.

“I’ll always praise my team on the effort side but we just spoke about some defensive stuff in there that we’d been working to improve,” he told the post-match press conference.

“We thought there were some tries there, especially right before half time, which put a fair bit of pressure on us. There’s little areas of our discipline that needs to be better.

“Whether or not we go down on men, these boys are very capable of making sure that points don’t rack up like they did.”

One incident late in the first half, where front-rower Reuben Cotter ran straight down the middle of the field to score, plus a late Jeremiah Nanai try off a kick, were particularly notable defensive lapses.

“They’re working hard to be better in those areas and as a group, we need to take better ownership of it and be defensively in a better place,” said Maguire.

“We need to be better. It’s too many points at this level to be leaking. It’s not like they haven’t done the work to know where they’re coming but we have to be capable at that moment to stop it.

“We’ve got to make sure that the people around that area need to do their jobs at that time.”

Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi has done his chances of a State of Origin debut with Queensland no harm with an impressive performance alongside incumbent Maroons centre Valentine Holmes.

Taulagi set up the first try of the match with an astonishing final pass for Scott Drinkwater and added two more of his own as North Queensland cemented third spot on the ladder with a comprehensive triumph.

“I don’t think it’s a stupid idea,” said Todd Payten. “If they want to go for combinations, they’ve got a really good combination together and both would get the job done.”

“He’s really skillful and understands the game really well, which helps him to make smart decisions out on that edge. He’s good in the air and strong out of his own end, which makes him a really good player. He’s starting to believe how good he can be.

“This is his third year in first grade and he’s one of a number of our guys who are at that sweet spot where they’re starting to understand what the NRL is about in their third year of footy.

“He works hard, he’s got himself fit and he’s going a great job for us.”

Payten also backed in Reuben Cotter, telling media that his young forward could perform easily at Origin level.

“He could do it on his ear. The tougher it gets, the better he gets. I’ve spoke highly of Reuben a number of times and if he’s called upon, he’s not letting them down,” said the Cowboys coach.

Their 7-3 record puts them alone in third spot, trailing premiers Penrith (9-1) and Melbourne (8-2) after the Panthers downed the Storm on Saturday night.

In the seventh minute it looked like Taulagi was going to be bundled into touch just short of the line when Tigers halfback Jackson Hastings flung him over the sideline but while almost horizontal as he crashed to the turf, he hurled the ball back inside to a grateful Drinkwater, who collected it to score untouched.

The Tigers hit back via debutant winger Junior Tupou and makeshift centre Luke Garner to take a 12-8 lead after Taulagi scored the first of his two four-pointers.

However, the Cowboys struck a double blow just before half-time with veteran winger Kyle Feldt and Reuben Cotter crossing for a 20-12 advantage at the break.

When Taulagi notched his second try eight minutes half-time, it looked like the Cowboys would kick on and they did just that when centre Peta Hiku barged over in the 57th minute.

The Tigers did not lie down and had a couple of opportunities to reduce the deficit but North Queensland forward 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 coach Billy Slater announces his squad in a fortnight for the June 8 series opener against NSW at Accor Stadium.

Michael Maguire’s Tigers are above only Canterbury on the ladder on for and against with identical 2-8 records.

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