Cowboys steal golden point thriller
Living legends duked it out for a total of just under 85 minutes on Monday night, with arguably the biggest name of all slotting the winning field goal in golden point for an unlikely 18-17 win.
Johnathan Thurston brought the 11,609-strong Townsville crowd alive and kick-started the Cowboys season after slotting his second one-pointer of the night with less than 30 seconds left in the first extra time period.
We were all but ready to induct legendary hooker Cameron Smith into the exclusive '200 NRL wins' club after a Cooper Cronk field goal looked to have the Storm home with under 10 minutes to go.
Up 16-4 with 20 minutes to go, and by seven points nine minutes from fulltime, the Storm looked the goods after North Queensland floundered multiple attacking chances in the second half.
But the home side kept coming and looked to perform a late miracle in front of their home faithful after a slick move right had winger Matthew Wright over in the corner.
Thurston squeezed his sideline conversion in the right pocket, while an ill-disciplined ruck penalty on the ensuing set gave the Cowboys adequate field position for Thurston to tie it up at 17-17 with just seconds left in regulation.
After the game, Cowboys coach Paul Green described the win as an example of what his side is capable of.
"Obviously winning is a lot more enjoyable than losing, but I was really proud of the way we won; that was a really big game for us in that we had to really fight for it," he said.
"We have just been down on confidence in recent weeks but tonight was evidence and it was a god reminder of the team that we can be.
"They are a quality opposition and they are well coached. They've got game-breakers right across their team. I don't know the stats off the top of my head but they don't get run down very often when they are leading at half time."
Trailing 16-4 at half-time, the Cowboys owned the second 40 minutes on the back of determined running from Jason Taumalolo (246 running metres), but a lack of polish meant the Cowboys had to do it the hard way.
The home side nabbed first points of the second half through Antonio Winterstein's second of the night. Morgan changed direction out of first receiver, and the Cowboys tossed it quickly through hands for Winterstein to cross in the 61st minute.
After dedicating their training throughout the week to defence, the Cowboys took just seven minutes to find themselves in defensive disarray as Cooper Cronk worked it left through the hands before Kurt Mann crossed in the corner.
While the Storm were working through sets in typical fashion, North Queensland's defensive line speed was questionable and they appeared disorganised in both defence and attack early on.
The Cowboys caught a much-needed break when Young Tonumaipea knocked on at the 20 metre line off a kick return, and converted it to points when Thurston hit Winterstein on a triple cut-out ball.
It was Winterstein's first game back after a leave of absence in the wake of his brother's passing, and the moment wasn't lost on player or team after the 26-year-old was quickly swamped by teammates – including good friend and edge partner Kane Linnett – while gazing to the heavens.
In an end-to-end affair early, the out-of-form home side looked to have improved its stance on the goal line, while building pressure when putting boot to ball.
They forced three straight sets after crafty fifth-tackle kicks but the Cowboys foray into Melbourne territory proved fruitless after poor goal-line execution.
In the game's second complete momentum swing Marika Koroibete showed a clean pair of heels, turning a towering Thurston bomb into a length-of-the-field special, beating three Cowboys, including a lazy effort from James Tamou to run 95 metres.
After denying multiple Melbourne raids as the half went on, the Cowboys goal line defence leaked another as Cronk found former North Queensland U-20s talent Felise Kaufusi with a short ball, as the visitors took a 16-4 lead into half time.
North Queensland Cowboys 18 (Winterstein 2, Wright tries; Thurston 2 goals; Thurston 2 field goals) defeated Melbourne Storm 17 (Mann, Koroibete, Kaufusi tries; Smith 2 goals; Cronk field goal) at 1300 SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 11,609. Half time: Storm 16-4.