Thurston magic leads Cowboys to testimonial win
The show and go is back, and the banana kick, and how.
In a moment that could not have been scripted better, Johnathan Thurston pulled a stunning banana kick out of his box of tricks in the final minute to set up a try for hat-trick hero Kyle Feldt and secure a 16-14 win for the North Queensland Cowboys over the Melbourne Storm in his testimonial match at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
It was a perfectly executed move and one that summed up the career of a genius.
Earlier, on the stroke of half-time Thurston put on the signature move that has defined his attacking prowess to score a classic try.
His good mate Cameron Smith, in whose honour the clash was also being held, had left the field in the 27th minute when Thurston weaved his magic.
From close range Melbourne Storm forward Christian Welch slipped over before Thurston threw a dummy and sliced past Harry Grant to score and give the North Queensland Cowboys an 8-4 lead at half-time.
Twelve years after his show and go in State of Origin III at the MCG sent Brent Tate on his way to the tryline and Queensland towards a famous series win, Thurston showed that the magic has not left him.
Smith came back on after half-time for another short stint in a clash played in driving rain. The weather did not deter the approximately 25,000 punters who came out in force to watch two of the great players in rugby league history in action.
Earlier Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote had left the field with hamstring tightness inside 10 minutes while Storm fullback Jahrome Hughes was replaced in the first half after he injured his shoulder.
The Cowboys will be hoping their injury woes from 2017 have not returned after centre Kane Linnett came off in the second half with a possible pectoral injury.
The Storm had opened the scoring through winger Young Tonumaipea after slick work by Brodie Croft on the inside.
In the 32nd minute, the Cowboys hit back - and how. Feldt ran through after a Michael Morgan cross-field bomb and gathered in the ball with one hand to score a classic.
Storm centre Curtis Scott scored in the 50th minute after a slick move that featured replacement five-eighth Ryley Jacks to level the scores at 8-all
Feldt put the Cowboys ahead 12-8 with his second seven minutes later when he ran onto a pinpoint Morgan pass with Thurston also involved.
It was Billy Walters, son of Maroons coach Kevin Walters, who scored a try late on to give the Storm a sniff of victory, before Thurston brilliance won it for the Cowboys.
On the field after the game, Smith complemented Thurston on a magnificent finish.
“As good as it gets. You came up with a great play mate. Well done,” Smith told Thurston as he spoke to Fox Sports.
The duo both regard each other as number one in the game. Thurston said Smith could read a game “seven, eight and nine” plays ahead and dominate a game from dummy half like no-one else.
Smith returned the compliment. “He is number one easily,” Smith said.
“When I look at JT he is the complete footballer. He’s been out of the game for eight months and he sets up two beautiful tries and comes up with one himself.”
Thurston played the full game and said his shoulder pulled up well, although he admitted he had some work to do on his defence.
“I came through unscathed,” Thurston said. “There was some heavy contact and I got trampled a couple of times which was nice, but I missed too many tackles.”
Smith was awarded the Harry Sunderland Medal at the conclusion of the match as the best Kangaroos player of the year.
The Australian captain said he was "very proud" to be the recipient of an award that Thurston had also won, a perfectly symmetrical conclusion to the evening.
COWBOYS 16 (Kyle Feldt 3, Johnathan Thurston tries) beat STORM 14 (Young Tonumaipea, Curtis Scott, Billy Walters tries; Scott Drinkwater goal).