The sputtering season of the North Queensland Cowboys has hit a new low, with a late denied try resulting in a 7-6 loss to the Melbourne Storm at 1330SMILES Stadium on Friday night.
Fullback Michael Morgan crossed the line in the final minutes, only to have the try disallowed by the NRL Bunker on account of an obstruction play involving lock Jason Taumalolo.
Morgan's attempt to steal the two points came moments after Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster had slotted a field goal to break a 6-6 deadlock.
The match developed into a gritty arm-wrestle as the desperate Cowboys tried to recapture the form that has deserted them in 2018 and the Storm also tried to find their rhythm after scoring just one try last week against Manly.
The game started with a knock-on a piece, before a penalty should have netted the Cowboys two points, only for Thurston's attempt to bounce off the post.
Cowboys forward Scott Bolton had his night ended early, suffering a hit to his rib cartilage which forced him off the field in obvious discomfort.
Match: Cowboys v Storm
Round 12 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
North Queensland missed the first opportunity when Gavin Cooper failed to collect Jake Granville's kick from dummy half, but Melbourne failed to make use of the seven-tackle set, kicking the ball dead on the full.
Poor completion rates were hurting both sides but the weight of possession for the Storm eventually told as Cameron Smith celebrated his return from suspension by carrying four defenders over the line to score the first points of the night. The kick was unsuccessful, keeping the Cowboys well in the dour contest.
The home side showed they weren't ready to fade out of the match with five minutes left in the first term, regaining possession when the Storm let Kyle Feldt's spiralling kick-off bounce, and were subsequently tackled in their own in-goal.
The Cowboys couldn't post any points, even after Sam Kasiano was put on report for a late hit on Thurston.
Thurston took plenty of punishment throughout the match as he tried everything in his power to lift his struggling team.
The Storm extended their lead early in the second half when a close range penalty added another two points to Smith's tally.
The Cowboys got on the score board 55 minutes into the match, when a cross-field kick on fifth tackle from Te Maire Martin found a flying Feldt, who grounded the ball for a spectacular try. Thurston threaded the ball through the posts to level the scores.
Felise Kaufusi was put on report for diving at the legs of Matt Scott, and made no friends in the crowd when he pulled on Scott's heavily strapped leg.
The momentum appeared to shift against the Storm when they gave away a penalty at the Cowboys' 30-metre line, but when Morgan's kick failed to find touched it swung right back.
Munster slotted the first field goal of his career to put the Storm ahead, and a late cross of the line from Morgan wasn't enough, the fullback ruled to have run behind Taumalolo.
News & Notes: Round 12 of the regular season of 2018 seems certain to be the last time Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith take the field in a professional football game together... Cameron Smith's try was his first for 2018... The Cowboys have lost five of their past six games at 1300SMILES Stadium... The Cowboys play Manly at Lottoland next Thursday while the Storm have a bye