North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos go head-to-head in an NRL semi-final in Townsville.

History Happens: Top Cowboys v Broncos games

When the North Queensland Cowboys entered the competition in 1995, no one knew how they would go competing against the superpower that is the Brisbane Broncos. 

Fast forward 21 years and they now have the upper hand in a big brother-little brother rivalry that has come of age.

North Queensland are no longer bullied by their Queensland rivals, instead Paul Green's men can claim that they've won five of their last eight against Brisbane. 

Although the Broncos have won 30 of the total 46 matches between the two clubs, it is the Cowboys who have made themselves the team to beat in recent history. 

The rivalry has produced some cracking contests, with the last three meetings having only been decided by one point. 

Two of these were golden point, including arguably the greatest grand final ever played. 

With the two teams about to meet again in Friday night's semi-final, we here at NRL.com thought it was only fitting to countdown eight of the best matches between the fiercest of rivals. 

8. Round 1, 2001: Cowboys 17 - Broncos 18

The reigning premiers came up against North Queensland in a clash where no one gave the Cowboys a chance. Someone must have forgotten to tell North Queensland because they stood up to the Broncos, so much so that the clash was decided by just one point. The highlight perhaps was a 70m Lote Tuqiri try that gave Brisbane the lead with 25 minutes to play. Paul Bowman hit back for the Cowboys, and when Nathan Fien slotted a field goal North Queensland's lead jumped to 17-12. Cowboys fans were dreaming of their first ever win over their Queensland rivals, but with less than eight minutes to go, the Broncos found a way to hit the lead. Chris Walker latched onto a long ball that was inches from being intercepted, racing 60m to score under the posts. Michael De Vere made no mistake with the conversion and Brisbane hung on to win 18-17 in an absolute classic in Townsville. 

7. Round 11, 2016: Cowboys 19 - Broncos 18

The most recent meeting between the two sides was another intense clash that resulted in a Johnathan Thurston field goal being the difference. What made this one even more special was that Thurston had been hit behind play by Josh McGuire moments before he kicked the one-pointer. Instead of staying down, the inspirational Cowboys skipper got to his feet and raced to the next play to kick the deciding field goal. The field goal came in the 75th minute after Brisbane had led for much of the match. Newly re-signed second-row forward Matt Gillett scored twice for the visitors, but it wasn't enough as North Queensland showed poise to ice the 19-18 win. Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford had plenty of chances to kick a field goal of his own, but the pressure got to the young gun and he was unable to convert. The result of this match ultimately gave the Cowboys a top four spot, with Paul Green's men finishing above the Broncos only on for and against at the end of the 2016 season.


6. 2004 Semi-final: Cowboys 10 - Broncos 0

Although not a classic, this match marked history as the first time the Cowboys had beaten the Broncos. North Queensland certainly chose a big stage to do it on, knocking Brisbane out of the competition in the process. The 10-0 win was a coming of age for the Cowboys as they announced themselves as a serious grand final contender. The match was meant to be played in Sydney, but the Broncos graciously let North Queensland take the match to the then named Dairy Farmers Stadium. Townsville was sent into raptures as North Queensland kept the Broncos scoreless, and Brisbane's decision to allow the game to be moved ultimately came back to bite them. A chip from Matt Bowen to David Myles resulted in the only try of the match. This four-pointer midway through the first half allowed the Cowboys to protect their lead and their defence stood strong. Josh Hannay kicked three goals from three attempts to give the home side one of the biggest wins in the club's history. 

5. Round 1, 2009: Cowboys 18 - Broncos 19

This match marked Ivan Henjak's first NRL match in charge of the Broncos, as well as Brisbane's first NRL match without master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm. A cloud of uncertainty surrounded how the Broncos would play without Bennett, the man who had guided them since 1988. If anything, this match summed up how Brisbane would perform without the super coach – it was a rollercoaster. North Queensland went from 14-6 down in the 46th minute to 18-14 up in the 57th minute and it looked as if they would go on with it. However, this swing of momentum was one of many ups and downs for Brisbane, with Henjak's men somehow changing the course of the match. The Broncos scored through winger Jharal Yow Yeh with 15 minutes to go and the scores were level at 18 apiece. Minutes later Brisbane winger Steve Michaels dropped what would have been the match-winning try, only for Peter Wallace to come to the rescue by kicking the winning field goal from 30m out with three minutes to go. It gave the Broncos a 19-18 win in the season opener and plenty of momentum to begin the year. 

4. Round 2, 2012: Broncos 26 - Cowboys 28

This is a match that produced one of the many iconic Matt Bowen moments. North Queensland came into this clash low on confidence, having been beaten 18-0 in their season opener against the Gold Coast Titans, but they didn't show it – dominating Brisbane early. The Broncos looked down and out, heading to the break down 16-8 in front of their Lang Park faithful. But rugby league is a funny game. Brisbane came out after half-time a different side to the one that had played the first 40 minutes, scoring two tries in the first eight minutes after the break. Suddenly they were back in it, and when Gerard Beale took advantage of a fantastic pass from Jack Reed, the Broncos hit the lead. Bowen scored his first of the night with 25 minutes to go and the seesawing contest continued. When Ben Te'o scored with 10 minutes to go, Brisbane led the contest 26-22 and it looked as if they'd have the class to go on with it. But after failing to put the game to bed, the Broncos gave the Cowboys a chance to win it with a scrum 20 metres away from their own line. Bowen collected the ball from the base of the scrum and scooted through the Broncos' defensive line to score under the posts. Johnathan Thurston converted on the full-time siren to give North Queensland a famous 28-26 win against their biggest rivals. 


3. Round 4, 2016: Broncos 21 - Cowboys 20

In terms of importance, this game doesn't rank with the two finals, but in terms of quality, this game was arguably better. Expectations were high after the unbelievable 2015 grand final, and both teams somehow not only lived up to it but also exceeded it. This clash had all the drama of a Hollywood blockbuster, only Anthony Milford was the hero, and for the Cowboys, a forward pass was the villain. The Broncos led 12-6 at the break, but North Queensland hit the lead with 10 minutes to go and looked destined to break Brisbane's hearts again. Enter Milford. Milford broke the Cowboys' line from inside his own 20m to set up speedster James Roberts for an exhilarating try that sent Suncorp Stadium into raptures. It looked to be a match-winner, but Johnathan Thurston again kept his side in it with a penalty goal on full-time to level the scores at 20-all after 80 minutes. Suddenly Ben Hunt was having déjà vu as a Kyle Feldt kick-off again came down towards him. There were no issues this time and it was game on in golden point. North Queensland looked to have won the game when Michael Morgan put Feldt over in the corner, but the pass was called back for being forward. Minutes later, it was Milford's chance to win the game for his side and he made no mistake. With seconds left in the first stanza of extra-time, the exciting 22-year-old called for the ball and slotted a field goal from 40m out. It capped off another chapter of this great rivalry and gave Wayne Bennett's men a piece of redemption as they won 21-20. 

2. 2015 Qualifying Final: Broncos 16 - Cowboys 12

Any periods of success between the two teams had been very one-way leading into the 2015 season. If the Broncos were doing well, it was most likely that the Cowboys weren’t, and vice-versa. But this match put all that to bed because it cemented both as a premiership contender. Brisbane scored the first try of the match through a trademark Ben Hunt dummy. Hunt broke the defensive line and stepped fullback Lachlan Coote to score next to the posts. It gave the Broncos an 8-2 lead at half-time as they continued to defy North Queensland's attempts to level the scoreline. Brisbane's brick wall defence continued to shut out the Cowboys, until Antonio Winterstein crossed to get his side within two points. North Queensland kept coming hard at the Broncos, and it took a piece of Kodi Nikorima brilliance to swing the momentum. Nikorima came off the bench in the last quarter of the match, and it was with his first touch at hooker that he made a line break and set Anthony Milford up for a four-pointer under the posts. But that wasn't the end of it, with Johnathan Thurston scoring with nine minutes to go to cut the margin to just four points. Thurston's efforts weren't enough as Brisbane held on for a famous 16-12 victory in front of over 50,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium. 

1. 2015 NRL Grand Final: Broncos 16 - Cowboys 17

The obvious choice as number one, and for good reason too. This was a match defined by individual acts of brilliance and moments of pure madness. Brisbane hit the lead in the 6th minute and didn't relinquish it until the 80th. A Kyle Feldt try after the siren on full-time set the match up for a fairy-tale finish. It was a try from absolutely nothing, with Johnathan Thurston somehow evading defenders and keeping the ball alive. Michael Morgan ended up with the ball and produced a sublime flick pass to Feldt who crossed in the corner. Step up Johnathan Thurston. One of the greatest players the game has ever seen had the chance to win it after the siren with a conversion from the sideline. The kick was struck well and Thurston's trademark bend had the ball looking like it was going to sail through the uprights, but it wasn't to be. It hit the post and the teams were headed to golden point after finishing regular time tied 16-16. It was now time for one of the most iconic moments in grand final history. Feldt's towering kick-off fell into the hands of Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt and he did the unthinkable – he dropped it. In a heartbreaking moment he looked to the skies. It was as if the scriptwriters had planned this, and Thurston knew what he had to do to win his first NRL premiership. He stepped up and slotted the field goal off the following set and history happened with the Cowboys winning 17-16. 

 

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