Cowboys v Broncos: Five key points
A contest full of courage, Taumalolo stands tall, extra time delivers right result and Corey Parker's career comes to a close.
Courage defines a contest for the ages
The bounce of the ball tortured Lachlan Coote all night but still he kept attacking the Steeden.
Cowboys co-captains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston were floored early but fought through unimaginable pain to inspire their team.
Adam Blair and his unruly mop of air threw his body at men much bigger like he'd been told it was the last tackle of his career and Corey Oates went from walking with hands on hips to scoring what appeared to be the match-winner 10 minutes from full-time with an 80-metre run sparked by an observant Darius Boyd.
The Cowboys and Broncos have played in four such epic encounters in the past 53 weeks that we couldn't have ever expected another thriller but again these two champion teams delivered in front of a capacity crowd at 1300SMILES Stadium.
They were two heavyweights leaning against each other in the 11th round to merely stop themselves from falling over and it was almost cruel to make them play an extra 10 minutes after scores were locked at 20-all after 80 minutes.
It was brutal, it was brilliant and solidified its place as the game's greatest rivalry of the past decade.
Taumalolo proves himself as NRL elite
In the space of just a few days he went from embarrassed egg-thrower to being lauded by his peers as the best player in the NRL in 2016 and on Friday night Jason Taumalolo rose to one of the game's great occasions.
As other forwards fell by the wayside his energy levels appeared to somehow rise and wasn't given a rest by Cowboys coach Paul Green until the 47th minute with 12 carries and 151 running metres to his name.
By the end of 80 minutes he had busted through the 200m barrier and in extra time was like a cannonball being shot from close range as his enormous thighs powered through tiring Broncos defenders.
After admitting that the events of last week affected his performance against the Storm he promised his teammates something special against Brisbane and delivered what Channel Nine commentator and legend Peter Sterling described as the best game he has ever seen him play.
Extra time delivers the right result
Rarely have two teams look so physically exhausted and the shrieks of joy could be heard all the way from the Shire but the first semi-final to go to extra time in 2016 showed that it is the right format for September.
In 10 minutes of rugby league there wasn't a single field goal attempt and we saw the match decided again by the brilliance of Johnathan Thurston but this time it was a spectacular try with a flick pass to rival Benji Marshall that won the game and not a rushed one-pointer with no right of reply.
It was an incredible game decided in the best possible fashion.
Ponga's debut lives up to the hype
Such was the interest in Kalyn Ponga's NRL debut that superstar Jarryd Hayne tweeted his excitement when his place in the Cowboys' backline was confirmed and the youngest player to appear in a semi-final since Israel Folau lived up to the billing.
The first kick of the night sailed over his head into touch and with his second touch of the footy in first grade he went on a run that was so mesmerising that even his own teammates got caught out by his footwork.
His slight frame was easy pickings when the hardened Broncos did get a hold of him but his footwork was brilliant to the end, he had some classy touches on the wing and gave every indication that we'll see plenty of him in the NRL in 2017.
Career of Corey Parker comes to a close
One of the absolute warriors of the game went out in a contest befitting his 347th appearance in the NRL but in the end Corey Parker's career came to a close in the most dramatic fashion.
When Corey Oates scored under the posts and Jordan Kahu's conversion nine minutes from full-time put the Broncos in front it looked as though he would get to play game No.348 next weekend but Matt Gillett's stray leg, Johnathan Thurston's penalty and Michael Morgan's try in extra-time turned his dreams into a nightmare.
He leaves at the top of his game which is rare at the highest level and with a lifetime of memories that he can reflect on once the bumps and bruises from Friday night subside.
"A little bit numb to be honest," Parker told Channel Nine post-game.
"It's been a fantastic ride, 16 years of enjoyment and it comes to an end tonight.
"There's got to be a winner and there's got to be a loser and tonight we were the losers again."
Game on. Data off.
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