Benji Marshall ices match-winning drop goal as Tigers edge Cowboys in thriller

The Tigers have spent the season fluctuating between finals hopes and wooden-spoon candidates, depending on which week you catch them.

Against the Cowboys on Friday night, Michael Maguire's men rolled out their whole rollercoaster repertoire before pulling off one of the great escapes of the season thanks to a controversial late penalty try and the boot of Benji Marshall, who celebrated his return to the Kiwis squad this week by landing the match-winning golden point.

The Tigers arrived in Townsville with their backs to the wall after being thrashed by the Raiders in front of their home fans seven days earlier.

You wouldn't have known it with the way they punched their way out of the corner, shooting out to an 18-0 lead off the back of brilliant counter-attack and inspired defence.

Tigers fans would have been wondering where their next try was coming from after failing to score a solitary try against Canberra but all of a sudden, Maguire's call to move captain Moses Mbye to the centres looked like a masterstroke.

The Tigers skipper threw the final pass to Michael Chee Kam as the visitors drew first blood and ran 70 metres to set up the third of three first-half tries which hushed the Townsville faithful.

Mbye, Corey Thompson and David Nofoaluma put the polish on the platform set by Alex Twal, Ben Matulino and Ryan Matterson through the middle but it was a renewed steel to the Tigers' defence which caught the eye.

The visitors repelled wave after wave of North Queensland defence after they struck twice in the first 10 minutes before Nofoaluma scored to set up an 18-0 lead.

But as Phil Gould noted in Nine's commentary, the lead felt too good to be true.

He was on the money.

The Cowboys' run started when Michael Morgan dropped the ball onto his foot on the first tackle and Kyle Feldt cleaned up the crumbs in the 32nd minute.

That left the score poised at 20-6 when the two teams trotted into the sheds. When play resumed, Morgan morphed from creator to scorer when he snuck over from short range.

Suddenly, it was game on.

After starring in the first half, Thompson then dropped a bomb in his own in-goal area, Javid Bowen pounced and the home side were on a roll.

The Tigers' lead had been peeled back to 20-18.

Jake Clifford kicked a penalty minutes later and with about 23 minutes to play, it was 20-all.

The Tigers needed someone, anyone, to put the team on their back and change the momentum of the game.

Mbye was their man. He forced a turnover with a big shot in the 60th minute, Luke Brooks did his part in forcing a repeat set and finally, the Tigers had some territory.

Brooks then forced another with a cross-field kick which travelled like a tracer bullet.

Two more sets followed but the Cowboys finally found the same steel in defence which the Tigers employed in the first term.

Once again, it was Morgan's time to shine. He speared a cut-out pass across the face of the Tigers' left edge and found Feldt for what looked like the winner.

The visitors needed a miracle and they found one when Jacob Liddle split the Cowboys' line from deep in the Tigers' half.

From the following play Chee Kam cleaned up a kick, was hit high by Jordan Kahu and a controversial penalty try was awarded.

But when the Cowboys won a penalty through Jason Taumalolo with just two minutes to play, the game was destined for golden point.

After Brooks and Marshall both had drop goals charged down, the latter finally slotted a wonky shot to pull off the great escape.

The match was a microcosm of the Tigers' season: brilliant one half, awful the next. But what an escape it was.