Cowboys lock in Queensland Grand Final
The Cowboys have set up an all-Queensland NRL decider after defeating Melbourne 32-12 in front of a sold-out crowd at AAMI Park.
Ten years after their maiden grand final appearance, North Queensland are again within reach of a maiden premiership and they predictably have their inspirational captains to thank for it.
The performances of Johnathan Thurston (three try assist) and Matt Scott (game-high 205 metres) were inspirational and a summation of two players looking to achieve the one thing that has been missing from their decorated careers.
Former Storm player Justin O'Neill scored two tries as did Michael Morgan and Gavin Cooper, the latter of which deservingly scored the sealer to send the travelling pocket of Cowboys fans into hysterics.
The contest was a tight one for much of the first hour but in the 54th minute the turning point came.
While Michael Morgan was crossing to hand the visitors an eight-point lead, Storm winger Marika Koroibete was 20 metres behind the play throwing a punch at Kyle Feldt.
The blow was a glancing one on Feldt's chin but in the context of the game it proved devastating for Melbourne as Koroibete was sent to the sin bin and the Storm's premiership dreams blew up in smoke.
Needing to quell the influence of an electric Melbourne crowd, the Cowboys burst out of the blocks and thought they had the perfect start after four minutes.
A sharp left-side move saw Antonio Winsterstein over to score but as the visiting Cowboys fans went up so too did an on-field call of 'no try'. The call was upheld on video review after Kane Linnet was judged to have obstructed Will Chambers.
Moments later Thurston's opposing number in Cooper Cronk blew past him with a beautiful right foot step for the first try of the game.
Aside from the Storm try, good ball was all the Cowboys in the early stages and on 15 minutes they were granted their reward via a likely source.
A Thurston grubber kick behind the Storm line sat up perfectly for O'Neil as he went clean through to score against his former team.
The visitors backed up their opening score by forcing back-to-back goal line drop outs and that was when the magic of the one they call 'JT' struck again.
This time he found O'Neil by hand with a sharp cut-out ball and then secured the conversion for a 10-6 lead.
North Queensland used their 61% of possession in the opening half hour to pick the kind of holes in the Storm defence that had simply not been there for the last month.
However rather than nudge further ahead it was the Storm who hit back through their own proven match-winners.
Not to be outdone, Cronk landed a cut out pass of his own into the waiting arms of Tohu Harris. The Kiwi international then willed himself over for an unlikely 12-10 lead.
It was a back and forth first half so it was only fitting the final score before the break came in such a manner.
Thurston put in a pinpoint cross-field kick that escaped the flailing leg of Matt Duffie, ricocheted off the knee of Winterstein and into the waiting arms of Gavin Cooper.
Thurston swung in the conversion over as the visitors took a four-point lead into the sheds.
After their opening try, Melbourne had to wait another 20 minutes for their next bout of good ball. After finally forcing their own repeat set , their golden chance was squandered by Jesse Bromwich who dropped the ball cold 30 metres out.
Morgan's try to extend the lead to eight and Koroibete's sin-bin was the beginning of the end for a Melbourne team that had been brave this year but would ultimately fall agonisingly short.
Down to 12 on the park Melbourne had a hill to climb but their cause became a dire one when the Cowboys struck again in fortuitous circumstances for a 14-point lead.
A Cronk kick struck a charging Ben Hannant in the head and the Cowboys reacted quickest with Gavin Cooper collecting the ball at halfway, handing off to Morgan who streaked away for his second try in four minutes.
From then on the situation was desperate for the Storm and it appeared to show as they dropped the football several times, each one adding another nail into their 2015 coffin.
But this was JT and the Cowboy's night and when the best player in the game broke through two tackles and offloaded to Cooper for the sealer, it was party time in Townsville.
North Queensland 32 (Michael Morgan 2, Justin O'Neill 2 tries, Gavin Cooper 2 tries; Jonathan Thurston 2 goals) def Melbourne Storm 12 (Cooper Cronk, Tohu Harris tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 29,315. Half-time: North Queensland 12-16. On report: Marika Koroibete (Storm).