Cowboys storm into grand final
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have qualified for the 2017 Telstra Premiership grand final in incredible circumstances, forced to come from behind twice in the second half to beat the Roosters 29-16 in the second preliminary final at Allianz Stadium.
An outrageous four-pointer to Kyle Feldt with 14 minutes remaining handed the Cowboys a 20-16 lead after Paul Green's side defied the odds for the third consecutive week to set up a date with the Melbourne Storm in next week's decider.
Former Queensland centre Justin O'Neill had a moment to forget when he lost the ball cold running towards the defensive line, and the Roosters turned defence into attack in an instance with Ferguson going over in the corner.
O'Neill went from villain to hero three minutes later however to jolt the ball free from Ferguson's grasp with a strong hit that allowed North Queensland to regain the lead.
The Cowboys stretched the ball wide with Feldt going over with a centimetre in it – and much like the season that's all the game requires – a piece of brilliance in the right moment.
Things got worse for the Tricolours with Latrell Mitchell kicking the ball out on the full for the second time of the evening.
A stripping call on Bolton enabled the Cowboys to stretch their lead out to six through a penalty goal – and a Michael Morgan field goal put the game to bed in front of a stunned crowd of 28,108.
Bolton then finished off the game with a four-pointer of his own to blow the margin out to 13 – but the result was far from one-sided.
The Roosters went over for tries before and after half-time to steal the lead at 12-8 after the Cowboys raced out to an eight-point advantage inside the opening quarter of the game.
Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce looked inside to Michael Gordon before finding back-rower Boyd Cordner on the left edge in the 46th minute, and the inspirational skipper did enough to draw in Lachlan Coote and send Newcastle-bound Connor Watson over for the Tricolours to hit the lead for the first time in the match.
Pearce's hot pass came undone eight minutes later however with the NSW halfback spilling a ball that enabled the Cowboys to steal back their two-point lead in the 55th minute, Morgan juggling the ball on the final tackle before providing the money ball for Kane Linnett to go over against his former club.
Earlier in the clash, Morgan caught the Roosters off-guard early with a 40/20 in the sixth minute, but the chance to attack didn't lead to points for Green's men.
Both sides went set-for-set inside the opening 18 minutes until Roosters lock Isaac Liu spilt the ball to put further pressure on the Tricolours' defensive line.
A high shot on front-rower Bolton enabled the Cowboys to take first points via a penalty goal in front.
Things got worse for Trent Robinson's side with Mitchell kicking the ball deep from the restart, and the Cowboys took advantage with mid-season recruit Te Maire Martin showing a piece of individual brilliance to get over the line.
The Cowboys five-eighth stepped inside Roosters pair Pearce and Waerea-Hargreaves to outsprint five defenders to the line.
Despite a week off heading into the clash, the Roosters were on their heels once more with Ryan Matterson caught in-goal and North Queensland looked the more likely in the opening 40 minutes.
Another error – this time from Sio Siua Taukeiaho – handed the visitors another chance to extend their lead, but a last pass to Ethan Lowe in a gap went to ground.
The Roosters were handed their first penalty after 34 minutes and that sparked energy into Robinson's side before the break.
A cross-field kick off the boot of Pearce was plucked out of the air for Mitchell to dive over the line after some miscommunication between right-edge defenders Feldt and Linnett enabled the 20-year-old to take a clean catch.
Feldt was hampered throughout the contest with a leg injury but remained on the paddock to score the crucial late try despite a clear level of discomfort.
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys 29 (Martin, Linnett, Feldt, Bolton tries; Lowe 6 goals; Morgan 1 field goal) defeated Sydney Roosters 16 (Mitchell, Watson, Ferguson tries; Gordon 2 goals) in the preliminary final at Allianz Stadium. Half-time: Cowboys 8-6. Crowd: 28,108.
First published on NRL.com.