Storm v Cowboys: Five key points
Thurston and Smith's show of sportsmanship, a nervy start leads to points and Gavin Cooper's scoring run continues. The key talking points to come from a classic contest at Suncorp Stadium.
Defence trumps attack
Game one of the double-header on Saturday night produced a thrilling finish, with Melbourne (the best defensive team in the competition) defeating the team with the most potent attack in the NRL in North Queensland. In what was one of the greatest matches of the NRL season so far, the Storm proved that defence trumps attack, with the one-point win giving the Cowboys their third loss of the season. It was a low-scoring affair; with the 15-14 win a testament to Melbourne's superb goal-line defence. A number of try-saving tackles from the Storm proved the difference, with Tohu Harris providing the moment of the night with an unbelievable tackle on North Queensland's Antonio Winterstein centimetres from the try-line. The Cowboys' poor record at Suncorp Stadium continued, having now lost their past six games in Brisbane. The Storm are now on a six-game winning streak – winning 11 of 14 at the venue.
Early errors lead to points
There were crucial mistakes from both teams in this top-of-the-table clash. Early it was mistakes by Melbourne that gifted the Cowboys their first try. Suliasi Vunivalu dropped a Johnathan Thurston bomb, gifting Gavin Cooper a try within the first five minutes. A Marika Koroibete drop ball followed this up 15 minutes later – giving North Queensland superior field position that led to a Thurston penalty goal. Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote returned the favour six minutes later, dropping a Cooper Cronk bomb that allowed Kevin Proctor to cross next to the posts. Antonio Winterstein started the second half horribly for North Queensland as he knocked on bringing the ball out from his own end. This mistake led to a Cameron Smith penalty goal as the teams continued to gift each other easy points.
Thurston v Smith
Two of Queensland and Australia's best and most respected players battled it out at Suncorp Stadium in a physical contest between two best mates. Online golf buddies during the week, the friends turned to enemies as soon as they took to Suncorp Stadium. The two traded early blows as they both found ways to help their teams score their first points of the night. Thurston put up the bomb that led to the Cowboys' first try, but Smith threw a great short ball to give the Storm their first four-pointer. But it was the mutual respect between the two greats of the game that stood out the most. On several occasions Smith attacked Thurston as the North Queensland halfback kicked, putting heavy pressure on the 33-year-old. Time and time again Smith would knock Thurston to the ground, but every time the Australian captain did so he would stop and make sure Thurston was OK. What followed this was sportsmanship at the highest level, with Smith helping Thurston up off the ground on countless occasions – followed by a pat on the back and smiles from both as they ran back into their respective positions. Smith had the last say, with his field goal in the 71st minute giving Melbourne the win. Thurston had a chance to hit back with a field goal of his own, but Smith managed to pressure him into a telling mistake.
Cooper can't stop scoring
North Queensland Cowboys second-row forward Gavin Cooper became the first forward to score a try in six consecutive matches since Glenn Morrison did the same for the Cowboys in 2003. Cooper is now the leading try-scorer for forwards in the competition with those six to his name. The 30-year-old is continuing his great combination with halfback Johnathan Thurston on the left and opposition sides are struggling to stop Cooper's 108kg frame close to the line. Scoring the first try of the night, Cooper was the recipient of Melbourne winger Vunivalu's drop ball close to the line, capitalising on the mistake and wrestling his way over for four points. He has now scored against the Dragons, the Panthers, the Rabbitohs, the Eels, the Sea Eagles and the Storm. Cooper has a handy knack of crossing the line first, scoring the first try in four of those six games.
Momentum means everything
Momentum is a hard thing to achieve in a game of rugby league and both teams made the most of it when they were lucky enough to have it in their favour. The first 20 minutes of the match belonged to the Cowboys, holding onto a 70 per cent advantage in the possession stakes. North Queensland hit an 8-0 lead after Thurston's penalty goal in the 20th minute, but after that moment the momentum well and truly swung back in Melbourne's favour. The Storm used this change in momentum to hit a 14-8 lead after 45 minutes - working hard to get the possession back to a 50-50 split at the same stage. Melbourne used the ball so well and it took four straight penalties in North Queensland's favour to swing momentum back to the Cowboys. An act of brilliance from Cowboys super-sub Jake Granville followed, wrestling momentum back in North Queensland's favour. A superb short ball from the ex-Bronco gave Michael Morgan a clear run to the try-line and scores were locked up 14-all with 25 minutes to go. The Cowboys had the run of possession from this moment, but a brilliant field goal from Smith late in the match gave the Storm the win against the run of play.