Inexplicably, the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos have played their third straight one-point match with the Cowboys triumphing 19-18 in front of a packed 1300SMILES Stadium crowd.
The two teams again turned it on in a pulsating contest as the Cowboys rallied from 18-6 early in the second half to storm home with tries to Lachlan Coote and Justin O’Neill.
Co-captain Johnathan Thurston, playing his 250th match for the Cowboys, kicked the match-winning field goal in the 73rd minute.
PRESSURE VALVE RELEASE
After eight minutes of exhausting, physical, blow-for-blow rugby league featuring just one error, the game finally took a breather when the Broncos were penalised for holding down in the tackle.
Prior to that, the visitors’ rushing defence and savvy last-play options had them winning the early battle for territory.
But that penalty allowed the Cowboys attacking ascendancy and they showed patience, forcing two goalline dropouts.
In the third play of the ensuing set, that patience paid off in magnificent fashion as a savvy cross-field run by hooker Jake Granville found a rampaging Matt Scott, who strolled around under the posts for his first try of 2016 and 15th of his career.
After Thurston converted, the Cowboys would have been looking to further pile on the pressure, but instead winger Kyle Feldt spilled the kick-off, and the home side suddenly found themselves defending.
Some desperate goalline defence and a Brisbane error thwarted the danger.
Feldt would make another costly error, but this time the Broncos would make their hosts pay, as in the 17th minute in the ensuing set from the turnover, Broncos back-rower Matt Gillett speared over, just making the line through momentum.
It was 6-4 after Bronco winger Jordan Kahu missed a relatively easy conversion.
Feldt would make a third error, followed by one from Jason Taumalolo as the home side struggled with a completion rate under 70 per cent, far below their benchmarks.
Kahu would get to make amends minutes later when, in the 29th minute, he piloted over a penalty from in front to level the scores at 6-6.
When they weren’t spilling the ball, the Cowboys were giving away piggyback penalties, and the visitors needed no second invitation to post more points.
Gillett roared into a yawning gap after Corey Parker got away a nice offload to another teammate who was tackled on the try line, but that was enough to draw defenders in and Gillett earned a first-half brace.
Kahu converted and the Broncos took a 12-6 advantage going into half time.
Six first-half errors, three penalties committed and 10 missed tackles went some way to explaining the Cowboys' poor first-half – in which they showed patches of attacking spark when down the Broncos’ end – but a swirling breeze they were running into didn’t help matters much.
BAD TO WORSE
Despite head coach Paul Green highlighting the importance of ball control during his half-time address, the Cowboys made a shocking error on the first play of the second half, with forward Ben Hannant losing control in a tackle.
In the blink of an eye, the Cowboys were trailing 16-6 as Kahu saluted in the corner.
A long-range penalty moments later stretched the margin to 18-6 and the Cowboys were in all sorts of trouble, unable to get good field position because of poor ball control.
THAT WAS A BIT COOTE
Finally, in the 59th minute, the Cowboys – on the back of their best defensive set of the match – showed good handling to advance the ball thanks to smart second-phase play.
Then an overcall from fullback Lachlan Coote paid off as the savvy fullback grubbered through the line, got the rebound and planted the ball as the home side reduced the margin to 18-10, which shrank to 18-12 as Thurston added the extras.
The Cowboys were now in a mood and the way their backline was finally humming was signature Cowboys from the past 18 months.
After some sublime attack in the left, 250-game hero Thurston switched play and halves partner Michael Morgan found centre Justin O’Neill for the Cowboys third, which JT the maestro duly converted.
It was 18-all and another match for the ages between two in-form teams was on in earnest.
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
The Cowboys came oh-so-close to taking the lead when five-eighth Michael Morgan showed great enterprise to make something out of nothing, swooping on a loose ball in space, grubbering through and almost grounding the ball, only for it to be overturned in the bunker.
Becoming only the second-ever Cowboy to post 250 games for the club, it was hugely fitting that Thurston sealed the deal in the 73rd minute with a sneaky field goal.
The final seven minutes were sheer torture for the 25,163 fans as the Broncos missed two field goals to tie things up.
The clock wound down and the Cowboys returned to the top of the NRL ladder with another classic against their fiercest rivals.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 19 (Matt Scott, Lachlan Coote, Justin O’Neill tries, Johnathan Thurston 3 goals, field goal) def BRISBANE BRONCOS 18 (Matt Gillett 2 tries, Jordan Kahu tries; Jordan Kahu goal, 2 pen. goal) at 1300SMILES Stadium.