Bennett's lament as brave Broncos bow out
He praised their effort in another enthralling 90-minute classic against North Queensland but Broncos coach Wayne Bennett admitted that his side's season was brought undone in a tough period through the middle of the year.
Like last year's grand final the Broncos had a win against the Cowboys snatched from them in the dying moments only this time it was from a Johnathan Thurston penalty goal after Matt Gillett was penalised and placed on report for a trip on the star half.
Levelling the scores at 20-all, that sent the semi-final into 10 minutes of extra-time and again it was Thurston controlling the strings, laying on the match-winner for Michael Morgan in the 85th minute and converting the try for a 26-20 win at 1300SMILES Stadium on Friday night.
Never in the history of the game have two rivals played five such dramatic matches in consecutive meetings and with so much at stake.
North Queensland progress to play Cronulla in the first preliminary final next Friday night at Allianz Stadium while for Brisbane it represents the end of their campaign and for their captain Corey Parker the end of a glorious career.
Between rounds 11 to 21 Brisbane won just two from nine games and in the immediate aftermath of Friday night's loss Bennett pinpointed that period where the Broncos' season came unstuck.
"I couldn't be anything else but proud of their efforts but there's a lot of disappointment that comes with all that effort and losing," Bennett said.
"Our last six weeks were great, our first nine or 10 weeks were wonderful. In between that was a mixture and what happened there put us here tonight.
"We shouldn't have been here tonight. It happened to me at the Dragons in 2011 as well. Origin came along and we lost a lot of players to Origin, lost our way a little bit as we did this year and you finish up in fifth or sixth position when you should have been in the top four.
"It just puts you in a place that you don't want to be in."
Criticised in some circles for speaking out about the golden point format after Brisbane's defeat in the grand final last year, Bennett was in many ways vindicated by the way the semi-final played out on Friday night.
There wasn't one field goal attempted in the extra 10 minutes with the match decided by some Thurston brilliance, a result Bennett said he could live with.
"I thought it was great. It was a better spectacle and we got beaten fair and square in the end," he said.
"It wasn't a bit of a luck or a fluke, it was playing real football.
"There was a lot of good footy played in that last 10 minutes. Desperation by both sides and it was well worth the exercise."
In a wonderful show of sportsmanship and respect Cowboys players joined with their Broncos combatants to form a guard of honour for Corey Parker as he walked from the field for the 347th and final time.
That continued when he walked down the tunnel to a warm ovation from Cowboys officials before heading into the Broncos sheds, Parker touched by the show of respect.
"It was very nice to have the guys do that. I didn't know that they were doing that," Parker said of the guard of honour.
"There's been a huge amount of respect between the two teams over a long period of time and it showed again tonight in the style of game that we all saw and very grateful for what they did at the end, it was much appreciated.
"That was another hell of a game of football out there and I can't go past the effort the boys put in but unfortunately effort doesn't win you games sometimes. It's been a great journey but it ends for me tonight."
Game on. Data off.
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