Hard game takes Cowboys to elimination round

The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys will have to play sudden death football next week after the Brisbane Broncos held them out 16-12 in their National Rugby league qualifying final at Suncorp Stadium.

The sides scored two tries a piece in a pulsating match at the spiritual home of rugby league in Queensland, but in the end, Brisbane’s scrambling defence and speed off the line got them home.

In front of more than 50,000 fans, this week one finals clash had plenty of intensity in the opening half as both sides placed a premium on playing quickly.

The first scoring play came in the ninth minute as Broncos veteran kicked a penalty. Following that play, the Cowboys spent a considerable period down the Broncos’ end, but were unable to unlock the defence despite the best efforts of Johnathan Thurston and fellow playmaker Michael Morgan, who had one pass deflected which for all money looked like it would lead directly to a Justin O’Neill try.

The Broncos’ patience finally paid off in the 27th minute as halfback Ben Hunt beat several grasping efforts with sublime footwork to score the opening try. Parker converted and it was 8-0.

The Cowboys got on the scoreboard in the 34th minute with a Thurston penalty and it was 8-2. The Cowboys won back territory in the ensuing sets and had two good chances to score denied as the first half closed out, the Cowboys actually having the advantage in possession, 54% to 46%

The visitors jumped out of the blocks in the second half as winger Antonio Winterstein showed great strength and determination to beat one tackle and spring back up to put the ball down. Thurston narrowly missed the wide-out conversion attempt and the Cowboys were trailing 8-6.

A second Parker penalty in the 60th minute extended Brisbane’s lead to 10-6 and with a quarter of the game remaining, the visitors had plenty to do.

That hill became a mountain in the 64th minute as Anthony Milford streaked away on the end of a Kodi Nikorima line break as the side suddenly held a 16-6 advantage with timing running out.

But that man Thurston springboarded the Cowboys back into the game, scoring off a brilliant Justin O’Neill kick infield. But that was to be it as the Broncos showed true grit in defence to held on for the win.

BRISBANE BRONCOS 16 (Ben Hunt try, Anthony Milford tries; Corey Parker 2 goals, 2 pen. goals) def NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 12 (Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston tries; Thurston goal, pen. goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 50,388.