Broncos secure epic GF redemption
It was the grand final replay Broncos coach Wayne Bennett wanted, only six months too late.
"They can't believe this is happening," was how Brad Fittler surmised it and no matter what words I write won't do the game justice. Don't watch the highlights, watch the entire second half and the five minutes of extra-time.
And then watch it again.
With impossibly high expectations from their last meeting in the 2015 Telstra Premiership Grand Final the Broncos and Cowboys somehow lived up to their billing, keeping 46,176 Queenslanders transfixed for 80 minutes and then some.
It ended with an Anthony Milford field goal from 40 metres out with seconds left in the first stanza of extra time for a 21-20 win that no-one will forget but it was the drama that preceded it that etched another extraordinary chapter into this rivalry that has quickly become the most gripping in the game.
The Broncos led 12-6 at half-time, the Cowboys roared back into the contest and took the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, we went to golden point extra-time and Michael Morgan (unsuccessfully in the end) put Kyle Feldt over in the corner, but that was where the similarities ended.
In by far his best game for the club to date James Roberts produced what appeared to be a match-winning try courtesy of an Anthony Milford line break five minutes from full-time only for Thurston to coolly slot a penalty from a ruck penalty 10 metres in from touch to level the scores at 20 apiece after 80 minutes.
Thurston looked to have again broken Brisbane hearts when he dived over in the right-hand corner after collecting a ball tapped back into play by Feldt but a slight bobble as the Cowboys co-captain regathered kept the contest alive long enough for Milford to claim some kind of redemption.
In an absorbing first half that was a long way from perfect but full of courage from both teams, the six-point advantage enjoyed by the Broncos at half-time came courtesy of three Corey Parker penalty goals.
He added a fourth early in the second half but just as they did six months earlier the Cowboys roared back into the contest and when Ethan Lowe scored with 11 minutes to go it appeared history would repeat itself in the most extraordinary fashion.
Trying to live up to the standards set last season, both teams were clunky in the opening 20 minutes in attack but it was Roberts who set the game alight with two scything runs that yielded his first line-breaks of the season.
In the eighth minute he cut back on the inside from an Anthony Milford pass and burst into the backfield that led to the game's first points and then in the 21st minute created the opening try with a line-break in mid-field.
Springing out of dummy-half Roberts pushed past three Cowboys defenders before finding Milford in support on his inside, the Broncos five-eighth was brought down by a Thurston ankle-tap before diving over the line.
He was at it again in the opening stages of the second half, skipping to the outside of opposite Kane Linnett for his third line break of the night only to be brought down in a superb cover defending tackle by Lachlan Coote.
Having seen his team on the back foot for much of the first half the gamble of Cowboys coach Paul Green to hold Jake Granville back on the bench paid immediate dividends, the nippy hooker darting over from dummy-half in the 28th minute, just two minutes after coming onto the field.
Cowboys prop Matt Scott limped gamely through the final 12 minutes of the first half with a foot injury, Jordan Kahu was involved in a scary scene when he lay prone after going in hard on Ben Hannant and Kyle Feldt left the field after 35 minutes for a concussion test after heavy contact from Broncos interchange forward Joe Ofahengaue, Kahu and Feldt both able to return to the field to start the second half.
Each side only had one try to show for their efforts in the first 40 minutes but Matt Gillett and Ethan Lowe both had four-pointers taken away by the review officials, both ruled to have lost possession as they fought to get the ball to ground.
There were only two competition points and pride on the line but the commitment, desperation and atmosphere was worthy of an occasion of far greater significance and it would be an absolute treat to see them close the season out again in October.
Brisbane Broncos 21 (Anthony Milford, James Roberts tries; Corey Parker 6 goals, Milford field goal) def. North Queensland Cowboys 20 (Jake Granville, Michael Morgan, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Half-time: 12-6 Broncos. Crowd: 46,176. Holden Cup: 23-22 Cowboys.