The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have been denied a repeat of their 2015 NRL grand final miracle as the Brisbane Broncos exacted revenge in tonight’s epic Round 4 match, winning 21-20 at Suncorp Stadium in an overtime match to surpass last year’s decider.
Just like last year’s grand final – etched in NRL folklore – the game was decided by a field goal, but this time it was the Broncos who prevailed as Anthony Milford piloted over the match-winner from 40m out as the Cowboys had potential tries to Kyle Feldt and co-captain Johnathan Thurston disallowed.
The Cowboys snatched the lead with 10 minutes left, only for Brisbane to take it back in the 77th minute before Thurston kicked a match-tying penalty to send the game into extra-time.
The visitors actually scored three tries to two in the match but Brisbane's tactic of kicking for goal paid off as Broncos skipper Corey Parker booted four penalty goals.
In front of a pulsating 46,176 Good Friday sellout crowd, the Broncos got off to the better start despite the Cowboys completing their first three sets and looking solid in defence.
But three-straight conceded penalties, a dangerous line break by Broncos speedster James Roberts and an Andrew Mcullough 40-20 conspired to hand the Broncos early field position and a 4-0 advantage after 15 minutes via a brace of Corey Parker penalty goals.
The Cowboys thought they may have been even further behind when, in the 18th minute, Matt Gillett crossed the line and was awarded the try by the on-field referee, only for it to be overturned by the bunker.
Continuing to be starved of possession against a disciplined opposition, the Cowboys found themselves down 10-0 after Anthony Milford streaked away following a Roberts line break and the hosts were revelling in a glut of footy and a generous penalty count.
But, when the Cowboys finally made it into the Broncos' red zone, they found almost immediate gold as Jake Granville – coming into the game off the bench – darted over from dummy-half, with Johnathan Thurston’s sideline conversion narrowing the score to 10-6 to the Broncos with 10 minutes remaining in the half.
Gillett’s no-try was repeated by the Cowboys in eerily similar circumstance – the in-form backrower losing possession over the line – and the Broncos maintained the 10-6 lead which was extended to 12-6 in the 36th minute as Parker piloted over a third penalty goal for the half.
A late first-half Broncos line break was snuffed out and the teams went into the sheds with the Broncos leading 12-6.
Things got off to a shaky start for the visitors in the second half as Parker piloted over a fourth penalty goal for a 14-6 lead.
Things went from bad to worse as Kyle Feldt kicked the restart out on the full, gifting the Broncos superior field position.
Starting to claw their way back into the contest through smart hands, the Cowboys muffed a prime scoring chance when the last pass of a sparkling backline play went to ground.
After losing almost all of the 50-50s in the opening 55 mins, the Cowboys got some great luck when a Thurston grubber rebounded off the posts and into the arms of a grateful Michael Morgan, Thurston’s conversion bridging the gap to 14-12.
With 15 minutes remaining, the Cowboys continued to threaten all over the park, but a Kane Linnett mini-break ended with the centre being taken from the field with a shoulder injury.
Thurston ended the set superbly forcing a Darius Boyd error and a repeat set that led to what everyone thought was a Michael Morgan try.
A review from the bunker overruled the on-field decision and the Cowboys still trailled 14-12.
It was that man Morgan, though, who again drove the dagger, breaking free off a Thurston inside ball to find a rampaging Ethan Lowe for what shaped as the match-winner.
That is, until the Cowboys made a crucial defence error that led to James Roberts’s runaway try off the back of a Lachlan Coote error.
The script had another twist as Thurston piloted over a late penalty to even the score as the game went into extra time.
The Cowboys had two tries disallowed in extra time in a game that simply defied description.
The loss gives the Cowboys two wins from their opening four games.
BRISBANE BRONCOS 21 (Anthony Milford, James Roberts tries; Corey Parker 2 goals, 4 pen. goals; Anthony Milford field goal) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 20 (Jake Granville, Michael Morgan, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals, pen. goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 46,176.