Cowboys v Broncos: Five key points
A one-point game yet again, Matt Gillett stands tall for Broncos and Queensland, Kyle Feldt's horror night and a big month ahead for both teams' back-ups.
Trilogy gets a fourth enthralling chapter
This is now not only the greatest rivalry of the current era but the collection of epic games between these two Queensland juggernauts will stand alongside any as the most enthralling the game has ever seen.
With Johnathan Thurston's 250th game for North Queensland as the backdrop to a sold-out 1300SMILES Stadium, the fourth meeting in less than nine months could not possibly have lived up to what came before but it had all the tension and the drama of the previous three, the third game in succession between these teams decided by a solitary point.
"It's great for the game, it's great for the fans and they got their money's worth tonight," Thurston told Channel Nine post-game.
A thumbs up from Corey Parker to Thurston prior to kick-off exemplified the wonderfully respectful nature of the game's best current rivalry and the 12-6 scoreline at half-time mirrored that of the original grand final rematch of Round 4.
The Broncos took advantage of an early Cowboys error in the second half to extend their lead to 12 points but as injuries mounted against Brisbane the home side roared back into the contest, scoring through Lachlan Coote and Justin O'Neill to level it up at 18-all 15 minutes from full-time.
Anthony Milford had two looks at a field goal and fluffed them both, Ben Hunt had one from long-range that drifted just wide; man of the moment Thurston iced his one and only attempt six minutes from full-time.
Can these teams please play once a month from here on in?
Gillett wraps up Queensland Origin spot
A Gavin Cooper-Johnathan Thurston combination must be tempting for Queensland coach Kevin Walters but Matt Gillett – who has been in outstanding early-season form – did more than enough to justify his selection in Game One.
His defence on the right edge had plenty of sting and his line-running for Brisbane's opening two tries saw him first push through Cooper, Thurston, Coote and Taumalolo for his first and then brush past Thurston to power through for a second.
He came up with a try-saving tackle on Kane Linnett 11 minutes into the second half that kept momentum very much the way of the Broncos and played the entire 80 minutes for a return of 89 metres, 34 tackles, six tackle busts, two tries and two line breaks that will have eased Walters' concerns over at least one position.
Origin audition slips through Feldt's fingers
Even Sam Thaiday, recognising he might be a Maroons teammate in 12 days' time, gave Kyle Feldt a pat of encouragement after his third dropped ball in the game's opening 25 minutes to help restore some confidence.
In a one-on-one showdown with Broncos' opposite Corey Oates for a Queensland wing spot Feldt had a night he'd rather forget. In a perfect piece of grand final symmetry he spilled a Ben Hunt kick-off after Matt Scott's opening try of the game and struggled to keep a handle on the Steeden from that point on.
He dropped one cold taking a hit-up on tackle one on halfway and his hands failed him again when Hunt sent another floating bomb in his direction.
It would have marked a meteoric rise if he'd earned an Origin call-up but with Queensland coach Kevin Walters sitting sideline in Townsville his first cap might now have to wait.
Dazed Oates fails to finish game
Hunt high balls were giving Feldt headaches all night but Corey Oates's final Origin audition failed to go as planned also, the Broncos winger unable to return in the second half.
With five runs for 52 metres in the first half it was a solid if unspectacular opening 40 minutes for the Origin hopeful but apparent dizzy spells in the sheds at half-time was cause for concern for the Broncos doctor and he was not used for the second half.
Oates was one of a number of casualties for the Broncos in the second half with Andrew McCullough and Jarrod Wallace both forced from the field in the early stages of the second half, putting added pressure on the Broncos' interchange.
Big month ahead for the back-ups
With both teams to be decimated for Round 12 with players on Origin duty and a heavy workload ahead, responsibility for the two teams' fortunes falls to the men on the bench, who have a big task ahead of them.
Notwithstanding the obvious loss of Thurston and Michael Morgan and what that does to the Cowboys' attack, the biggest hole to fill may come in the middle in the form of Matt Scott and James Tamou. The Cowboys were far more effective when their two Test props were on the field and the likes of Ben Hannant, Patrick Kaufusi and Scott Bolton must pick up the slack over the next six weeks.
The Broncos will also be without a big chunk of their forward pack next week but there were encouraging signs from Jarrod Wallace and Joe Ofahengaue off the bench.
Wallace had an immediate impact when he came onto the field in the 28th minute and Alex Glenn also made a successful return from injury with plenty of energy off the bench.
Both teams are well positioned heading into Origin, it will be a test of their depth to see who can hit the finals with the most momentum.