The Toyota Cowboys survived a second-half fightback from Queensland rivals Brisbane to move through to the second week of the NRL finals series with a thrilling elimination final victory.
After leading 24-0 at half time in front of the season’s biggest crowd at 1300SMILES Stadium, North Queensland were given a huge scare by the Broncos before scoring a 32-20 win to make it three straight wins against Brisbane in finals matches.
The Cowboys, who extended their club record winning streak at home to 11 matches, will face the Sydney Roosters next week after the reigning premiers lost to Penrith by a point in the day’s first final.
North Queensland had second-rower Tariq Sims placed on report during an incident-filled second half.
Both Tariq and Ashton Sims finished as winners in their last home game as a Cowboy.
The Cowboys were 1-17 once again while Brisbane brought in Jordan Kahu at right centre in place of the injured Jack Reed. Corey Oates, who was originally named in the starting team, sat on the interchange bench with Todd Lowrie dropping out.
It looked like the Cowboys had scored via Kyle Feldt in the fifth minute, but after being ruled a try by the on-field officials, the decision was overturned in the video referees’ box.
They found a knock-on from Tautau Moga in the lead-up, but only after a lengthy review process.
The setback was soon forgotten, however, when Gavin Cooper did all the hard work himself and crossed just before the 10-minute mark.
JT’s conversion gave the home team a well-deserved 6-0 buffer.
After Brisbane sent the next kick off out on the full, the Cowboys were in again thanks to Kane Linnett who powered across after hitting a gap off a Thurston pass.
Only 14 minutes had elapsed and North Queensland were 12-0 up.
Robert Lui produced try number three for the Cowboys.
After recovering a blocked grubber kick, he shed a couple of defenders to touch down under the posts.
JT’s third goal of the night took the lead to 18.
After dominating the first quarter of the game, the Cowboys were called on to make three straight sets of tackles on their own line after they were unable to control the kick off following Lui’s try, and then sent the goal-line dropout out on the full.
It was a Brisbane error that led to NQ’s next try.
Centre Jordan Kahu, who had come up with a mistake near the Cowboys’ line only minutes earlier, coughed up possession just 10 metres out and Gavin Cooper was the man to cash in, collecting a double after running on to a fine ball from Lui.
JT converted for a 24-0 lead.
By half time, the completion rates were well down on expected for both teams with North Queensland 11 from 18 (61%) and Brisbane 9 from 16 (56%).
Brisbane lost bench forward Martin Kennedy to a torn calf muscle just after the restart but were able to post the first points of the second 40.
After receiving back-to-back penalties, taking their total to six in a row either side of the break, Ben Barba found the try line – the four-pointer confirmed by the video referees who checked on the grounding.
Corey Parker’s conversion swung to the right to leave the margin at 20.
Before the Cowboys had touched the ball, Brisbane were in again and right back into the contest.
The elusive Justin Hodges was the constructor, breaking clear near halfway before linking with Kahu who was able to give Parker a much easier shot at two.
With 20 to go, Brisbane cut the deficit to less than two converted tries.
Hodges ran around Kyle Feldt on a kick return and Kahu was the finisher again.
Tariq Sims was put on report for his tackle on Hodges that left the Broncos’ No.1 with a head cut.
Although Hodges was able to play on, the momentum finally turned back towards North Queensland who managed to ease their fans' nerves with a try to Michael Morgan with 15 to go.
JT converted and then added two more after Broncos forward Ben Hannant was put on report for a high shot on Morgan who came off under the concussion rule.
The lead was 18 but still Brisbane didn’t go away.
Daniel Vidot took advantage of the Cowboys’ right edge defensive troubles to score his team’s fourth try of the night.
Although they won the second half 20-8, the first-half deficit ended up being too much for Brisbane to recover from and their season ended, for a third time, in North Queensland.
As well as scoring his double, Gavin Cooper led the Cowboys with 130 metres and 28 tackles.
Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Tautau Moga, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Robert Lui, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Ashton Sims, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Ray Thompson, 15 Scott Bolton, 16 Glenn Hall, 17 James Tamou.
Broncos: 1 Justin Hodges (c), 2 Daniel Vidot, 19 Jordan Kahu, 4 Dale Copley, 5 Lachlan Maranta, 6 Ben Barba, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Josh McGuire, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Corey Parker (c), 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Sam Thaiday. Interchange: 3 Corey Oates, 14 Jarrod Wallace, 15 Martin Kennedy, 16 Ben Hannant.
Cowboys 32 (Gavin Cooper 2, Kane Linnett, Robert Lui, Michael Morgan tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals)
Broncos 20 (Jordan Kahu 2, Ben Barba, Daniel Vidot tries; Corey Parker 2 goals)