Harsh lesson behind Cowboys' grand final miracle
The pain of a failed final play in the pulsating Preliminary Final against Brisbane three weeks earlier provided the foundation to Johnathan Thurston's last-minute grand final miracle, according to noted rugby league historian David Middleton.
The 29th edition of Middleton's Rugby League Annual is on sale from Thursday, December 10 with the top five players of the year, team of the year, complete recap of the 2015 season along with the entire list of New Zealand internationals for the first time.
Summing up the epic all-Queensland decider in two pages of the tome is no mean feat in itself and Middleton has identified the almost identical chain of events that rounded out the two Cowboys-Broncos finals as critical to the final outcome.
History will show that Kyle Feldt's try in the right-hand corner as the full-time siren sounded was born out of a chaotic final play inspired by Thurston and halves partner Michael Morgan but Middleton believes there is more method to the madness.
"Three weeks earlier, Thurston was in an identical position in an epic qualifying final against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium," Middleton writes.
"As the seconds counted down to full-time, the Cowboys trailed by the same score—16-12—when Thurston took the ball 35 metres from Brisbane's line, needing a miracle.
"He had troops to his right but opted for a high kick, hoping his chasers would pour through and claim the ball for a try at the death. But the ball skewed off his boot and into the arms of Broncos winger Corey Oates, who had anticipated such a play. Oates took off for his own in-goal and punted the ball high into the crowd.
"The moment arrived again on grand final night. The Broncos were ahead 16-12 and once again it was all or nothing. This time Thurston was closer to the Brisbane line, 15 metres out, when he took a wobbly pass from dummy-half Jake Granville on the last tackle with only 13 seconds left on the clock.
"Adam Blair rushed at Thurston as he propped to half-volley the Granville pass. He stepped off his right foot to evade the tackle, then pushed away from hooker Andrew McCullough, retreating backwards past the Brisbane 20 as he turned to his left then passed off to five-eighth Michael Morgan before he was crunched in Corey Parker's tackle.
"Thurston would barely have had an opportunity to get a kick away, but after his last experience it would have been the last option on his mind.
"Morgan clapped on the pace and drew in Anthony Milford and Jack Reed as he surged towards the line.
"Oates, in retreat as Morgan approached, momentarily left his wing unattended and Morgan's flick pass, one destined for grand final folklore, allowed Kyle Feldt to plant the ball centimetres inside the touch in-goal line."
The 2015 Official Rugby League Annual is on sale at newsagents from Thursday, December 10.