Brisbane sent the Cowboys off to plan for Mad Monday with a hard-fought victory in front of a bumper crowd at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday evening.
North Queensland were definitely not disgraced, and with a bit better rub of the green would have won this game. Two of Brisbane's tries were questionable. But the Cowboys' lack of execution in the pivotal moments – not helped with Matthew Bowen off the field – eventually told in a hard-fought encounter.
Brisbane will be very happy with the two points. Their own execution wasn't fantastic but with the stars they have in their arsenal, they still can't be discounted as a premiership threat. Certainly aren't “on” … but nor were Parramatta two months ago.
Overall this was a pretty dour game which became desperately exciting in the last two minutes.
The Game Swung When… In the 10 minutes leading up to halftime, North Queensland launched wave after wave of attack at the Broncos’ line, the visitors eventually cracking after Luke O'Donnell latched onto a contested Jonathan Thurston bomb. Thurston missed the kick-able conversion and it was 10-4 Cowboys.
In the 50th minute with the Cowboys pressing, Darren Lockyer took an intercept from a Thurston pass that would have given the Cowboys a four-on-two overlap out wide. Crucial play.
Five minutes later Alex Glenn bashed his way over after some fine lead-up work by Lockyer and Sam Thaiday. It was a 50-50 call and video ref Tim Mander correctly ruled that there was Doubt. Corey Parker's conversion made it 10-all and anyone's game.
And then came the best play of the game. Thurston sent a kick into Broncos territory that was taken by Jharal Yow Yeh on the fly. He burst past Carl Webb like a tracer bullet, the enforcer unable to lay a finger on him. Like a rapier Yow Yeh set off downfield on a flying run to the line. Thurston came across in cover but Yow Yeh turned him inside out, stepping off both feet four times and causing Thurston to look over his shoulder like a befuddled chicken. With one final step Yow Yeh found the requisite space and went over in the corner for a brilliant four-pointer.
The Cowboys didn't give up as the Broncos had a crack at three field goals. In the final minutes the Cowboys still had a chance to equalise and threw everything at the Broncos.
With time up on the clock, Thurston kicked for the corner for the flying Ash Graham but the ball beat the centre into touch… and that was the Cowboys’ season.
Who Was Hot… Justin Hodges was strong for the Broncos down the right, his huge steps off both feet and interesting crab-like running style constantly tormented the Cowboys in their paddock. Sam Thaiday ran and tackled hard, Darren Lockyer was typically accomplished with the ball, while Corey Parker made 19 runs for 99 metres, two offloads and 39 tackles.
Karmichael Hunt broke seven tackles with his bouncy, hard running while Yow Yeh was exciting.
The Cowboys were well served by their halfback, captain and chief referee negotiations man, Thurston. Shane Tronc had a fine game in the front row with 37 tackles, three offloads and 20 runs for 120 metres. And second-rower Scott Bolton ran 19 times for 137 metres, offloaded twice, broke five tackles and made 29.
But the Cowboys' best was O'Donnell, playing in the centres. He broke five tackles, scored a try, saved another, made 121 metres in 18 runs and executed 19 tackles.
Who Was Not... Cowboys’ centre Ashley Graham was peppered with bombs, two of which he grassed.
Brisbane are trying to play mistake-free footy but are still making mistakes. As a result they look “stodgy” and ordinary. Better to release the hounds! They've got stars everywhere in the backline. Let the forwards do the hard graft and let Lockyer, Peter Wallace, Hodges, Hunt, Israel Folau (Israel Folau!) and the flying kids on the wings do their thing. Chuck it about, Broncos!
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… In a game full of monsters, Dave Taylor could be the scariest one of all. Certainly Ash Graham thought so when he grassed the first bomb that came his way and Big Dave was bearing down upon him like an angry bull elephant.
In the first half Thaiday was penalised for picking up Thurston by the leg as he (Thaiday) played the ball. Nobody is sure why.
Bad Boys… Cowboys bench player James Tamou was charged with a careless high tackle for a 56th-minute incident but will escape suspension with an early guilty plea.
Refs Watch… The Hunt pass that led to Folau's try travelled further forward than Doctor Who in his Tardis. Hunt passed the ball in the tackle before the line, Folau caught the ball and put it down over the line. Ben Cummins sent it upstairs, possibly because he was unsighted. But video refs don't rule on time travel and it was try-time Broncos.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Corey Parker (Broncos): A mountain of work from a very good lock forward; 2 points – Luke O'Donnell (Cowboys): A second-rower who runs like a centre playing in the centres. Seemed to work; 1 point – Justin Hodges (Broncos): Plenty of punch from the pugnacious pup.
Broncos 16 (I Folau, A Glenn, J Yow Yeh tries; C Parker 2 goals) def Cowboys 10 (W Tonga, L O'Donnell tries; J Thurston goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 24,332.