NRL Grand Final: Five key points
It will go down as possibly the greatest grand final of all time. Here are five things we learned from the all Queensland decider between the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys.
A golden moment of greatness
After he hit the post with his sideline conversion at the end of 80 minutes it had to be Johnathan Thurston who decided the first golden-point grand final in NRL Telstra Premiership history. The champion Cowboys five-eighth was in position from the scrum after Ben Hunt's unfortunate spill of the kick-off but the Broncos defence charged one more time to deny him that first shot.
Two tackles later he iced North Queensland's maiden premiership but it was the daring piece of play from Michael Morgan as regulation time ran out that should not be lost in the wash-up. The Cowboys had bashed away at the Broncos' defensive wall for what felt like the entire second half without success until on the last play of the game, with all hope seemingly lost, Morgan pushed in between two defenders and got a right-handed flick away to Kyle Feldt who was so cool under the most immense pressure that he put it down one-handed. It was a try in the most extraordinary of circumstances on the game's biggest night and gave the best in the business two shots at writing his name into rugby league immortality.
"It was the last thing we could have come up with so I'm thankful it came off," Morgan told Channel Nine.
"Speechless. Can't believe it," was Thurston's immediate reaction. "I can't believe what we've just done.
"I love these boys, they've worked so hard. The sacrifices they make every day, I love this club."
Broncos brave to the bitter end
They had built their season on not letting down the mate beside you and for 79 minutes and 55 seconds the Broncos lived every word of it.
The pressure mounted with every set yet they continually turned the Cowboys away. They were forced to make 30 more tackles than North Queensland and missed on 11 fewer occasions and even on the last-ditch play that saw the Cowboys draw level technically didn't miss one then either.
"One minute, that's all it took to lose a grand final tonight," Sam Thaiday told Channel Nine.
"It was surely a tough old game, it will probably go down in history."
Thurston's fairytale meant that Broncos captain Justin Hodges couldn't leave the game with an extra premiership ring but he lauded the efforts of his team to get him to the grand final in the first place.
"They're probably the best bunch of men I've played football with," Hodges said in the post-game press conference.
"We didn't get the result but my dream was to get back here and I got back here all thanks to my mates and that's all I could ask of them. I couldn't be happier with them."
Granville earns 'Buy of the Year' tag
The Broncos didn't see enough in Jake Granville to give him regular football and when they exposed his lack of big-game experience in Week One of the finals it appeared warranted. But the lightning-fast No.9 repaid the belief Paul Green had from coaching him at Wynnum Manly with a sparkling display that got the Cowboys into the game.
He pounced on a fast play-the-ball to make a darting run in the opening minutes and then laid on his side's two first-half tries, the first a well-worked scrum move for Justin O'Neill and then a sharp pass for James Tamou close to the line. He got a rest either side of half-time but when Paul Green put him back on late in the game he again sparked the Cowboys attack into life, poking and prodding at the Bronco defence until eventually – at the last possible minute – his team found the moment that changed history.
Green's winning ways reach their peak
Once Wayne Bennett's apprentice, Cowboys coach Paul Green is bringing winning ways wherever he serves as a coach. A two-time Intrust Super Cup premiership winner with Wynnum Manly, Green was part of the Roosters' coaching staff that oversaw their 2013 title and now in his second year at North Queensland has written his name into Cowboy folklore forever more. Last year Green didn't get his hands on his entire squad until well into the new year but 12 months on implemented a plan to ensure winning away from home was never the club's Achilles heel again. He has raised the stakes at the Cowboys and not shied away from difficult decisions and the reward for an area one-and-a-half times the size of Texas is the title of NRL premiers for the next 12 months.
Grand final now a national event
The NRL Grand Final has finally transcended from being a game between two teams to becoming an event of national significance that all footy fans are eager to be a part of. The first all-Queensland grand final witnessed an invasion of fans into Sydney greater than Origin proportions while enrapturing an entire state glued to their flatscreens back home. The NRL Nation fan experience created an environment that welcomed fans of all teams to be part of grand final week and the pre-game entertainment lifted the crowd of 82,758 to fever pitch. The 34 players who took to the field delivered what many will say is the greatest grand final of all time that had every person in the stadium with their hearts in their mouth until the 80th minute and beyond. Bring on 2016.
"The bottom line here is that was an absolutely outstanding game of football," said Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.
"The game is designed for you to lose; someone's got to lose. At 16-all I would have been happy to come back here next week.
"At the end of the day we got beaten on a field goal so do we feel beaten, no we don't. Are we disappointed? Of course we are.
"It's not about winning and losing all the time."
Match report: Thurston kicks Cowboys to premiership
Cowboys player ratings
Broncos player ratings
Magic Moment: Feldt's late, late try
Magic Moment: Thurston wins it
WATCH: Winning skippers' speech
WATCH: Hodges' post-game speech