The Toyota Cowboys suffered another agonising NRL loss to their Queensland rivals Brisbane in their round two clash played in front of more than 42,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
Beaten by two points twice by the Broncos last season, North Queensland were in front by two until Brisbane hooker Brett McCullough backed up a break down the right by Dale Copley to score the winning try in the 73rd minute.
Corey Parker’s conversion left Brisbane 16-12 up.
In a thrilling finale, the Cowboys were deep in attack in the final 90 seconds and almost found the four-pointer they needed to draw level, with a desperate co-captain Johnathan Thurston coming the closest to rescuing the two points.
However, swarming, never-say-die Broncos defence, and too many errors from North Queensland, ended up having the final say.
The Cowboys remain without a win in Brisbane since 2012 and slipped to a 1-1 win-loss record, while the Broncos, who have been underdogs with the bookies in their opening two games, are unbeaten heading into round three.
Cowboys coach Paul Green elected to leave Joel Riethmuller out of his 17 after naming him at lock on Tuesday. Glenn Hall started with Ashton Sims earning a bench spot after missing out in round one. The Broncos were 1-17.
The first Queensland derby of the year featured what has become a traditional feature – plenty of solid, tough defence in the opening 40 minutes with little between the two sides and only limited scoring opportunities.
North Queensland didn’t help their cause with an 11 from 17 completion rate (65%), well down on what they managed against Canberra six days earlier.
Chasing their first win at Suncorp since 2012, the Cowboys suffered an early setback when Broncos lock Matt Gillett split two defenders and rumbled his way to the tryline to open the scoring in the seventh minute.
But it didn’t take long for NQ to hit back, James Tamou spinning his way through the line to send Johnathan Thurston over for his second try of the season just eight minutes later.
JT’s conversion from near the posts levelled the score at 6-all.
The Cowboys came close to hitting the front with Michael Morgan unable to ground the ball in a two-man tackle.
The video referees confirmed the on-field call of “no try”.
Brisbane had front-rower Josh McGuire put on report for a high shot that hit Gavin Cooper flush on the nose and there was an injury scare for the Cowboys when Brent Tate went down clutching his ankle.
Tate was able to continue on but he wasn’t able to prevent a second Broncos try four minutes before half time.
Daniel Vidot touched down a perfectly placed Josh Hoffman kick near the sideline to give the home team a 10-6 lead.
Paul Green used all four of his interchange players in the opening 40, including Rory Kostjasyn who came on after half an hour to fill in for Ray Thompson at hooker – a change from last week when the Irish World Cup rep didn’t play until the second half.
After Rory Kostjasyn was held up over the line, the Cowboys eventually posted the first points of the second 40 to level up at 10-all.
Tariq Sims, who was strong with his carries all night, weaved his way close and shortly after Gavin Cooper cleaned up the scraps of a Robert Lui crosskick to bag NQ’s second try of the night.
By the 53rd minute, the Cowboys were in front, Thurston adding a penalty after Lui had been illegally felled after kicking downfield.
McGuire went on report for the second time.
They were to be the last points until McCullough’s winner arrived with seven left, but there were plenty of incidents in between in a pulsating half of classic derby footy.
With just over 10 to go, Kane Linnett almost snatched a try for the Cowboys but had it denied after being viewed upstairs, while Sims threatened to punch his way through several times.
The Broncos thought they had scored via halfback Ben Hunt only to cop a penalty for obstruction in the lead-up.
COWBOYS SQUAD: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Brent Tate, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Johnathan Thurston (c), 7 Robert Lui, 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Ray Thompson, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Jason Taumalolo, 16 Glenn Hall. Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn, 15 Tariq Sims, 17 Scott Bolton, 18 Ashton Sims.
BRONCOS: 1 Ben Barba, 2 Daniel Vidot, 3 Jack Reed, 4 Dale Copley, 5 Lachlan Maranta, 6 Josh Hoffman, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Josh McGuire, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Corey Parker (c), 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Sam Thaiday, 13 Matt Gillett. Interchange: 14 Ben Hannant, 15 Martin Kennedy, 16 Todd Lowrie, 17 Jarrod Wallace.
Brisbane 16 (Gillett, Vidot, McCullough tries; Parker 2 goals)
Cowboys 12 (Johnathan Thurston, Gavin Cooper tries; Thurston 2 goals)