Golden boy Thurston wins epic finale

Brisbane Broncos 16 North Queensland Cowboys 17

by Jonathan Doidge

Incredible! Utterly incredible! Johnathan Thurston added to his aura as the greatest rugby player on the planet with an 83rd minute drop goal to win the first ever NRL Grand Final to go to a golden point for the North Queensland Cowboys.

It was a deserved maiden Premiership win for the Cowboys, who through Kyle Feldt had levelled scores with a dramatic try as the clock ran out on normal time. He and his teammates could only look on as Thurston understandably took an eternity to set up for his conversion attempt, which, in keeping with the theatrics of the occasion, came back off the right-hand post to ensure a final curtain call for both teams.

Driving forward as they had done relentlessly during the second-half, the Townsville team twice tried to set-up for a one-pointer, before Glanville finally got a quick enough pass away to allow Thurston the opportunity to slot over a 20-metre shot with his golden boot and pandemonium ensued.

The half-back had long before sewn up the Clive Churchill Medal after an inspirational performance and he was at a loss to explain his feelings as his kick disappeared into the crowd. “I’m speechless,” said the 2013 World Cup winner.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe what we’ve just done. I love these boys. They work so hard. The sacrifices they make for us every day. I love them. Wow! I can’t believe it.”

An emotional Paul Green was quick to pay tribute to one of his leaders. “He is unbelievable,” said the Cowboys head coach of his number seven. “When he took that goal if I could have had my pick I don’t think there’s any other player I’d want to take that goal.

“It wasn’t to be but he iced the game for us when he got his chance and I think he’s had a magnificent year and that just caps it off for him.”

Co-skipper Matt Scott added “I can’t explain it. I’m so proud of the boys. The effort they showed against a quality opposition. I thought JT had nailed the kick. I said to him before it there’s no pressure because I thought we’d got this.

“It will be mayhem back home and so it should be. 20 years through the highs and lows and we’ve finally got a Premiership to bring home to them.”

Gutted Broncos forward Sam Thaiday struggled to come to terms with the manner of his team’s defeat. “One minute that’s all it took to lose a Grand Final,” he said.

“A couple of fundamental errors from myself. Things I don’t usually do in a game.

“I missed that tackle in the line against Tamou. Dropped that ball coming out of our end in the second-half and little things like that end up costing you the game.

“We were one minute away from winning that and just couldn’t seal the deal.”

The Broncos, of course, played a huge part in this monumental encounter, but the six-time champions went down to what was a first Grand Final defeat for legendary coach Wayne Bennett. While it also meant a disappointing end to the great career of skipper Justin Hodges.

England centre Jack Reed was a revelation and could not hold back the tears at the final hooter, while Adam Blair was outstanding up front. Hooker Andrew McCullough led the tackle stats with 47 and half-backs Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford asked plenty of questions, particularly before the break.

However, in only their second final and the first ever all-Queensland affair, the Townsville team would not be denied. Their second-half performance was relentless, but Brisbane matched them with as good-a-defensive effort as you will see for all but those final few seconds.

Hooker Jake Granville was another Cowboys standout, but really this was all about the collective will of a rugby league mad town, who will surely never have celebrated anything with quite such fervour.

A sensational start saw the Broncos saw 14 points in the opening 12 minutes. Parker’s 40-metre penalty shot got them on the board, before Blair offloaded to Milford inside his own ‘20’, Reed took play on and then sent Corey Oates into the clear on a 65-metre gallop to the line. Parker added the extras.

Caught cold, the Cowboys showed enough spirit to hit back immediately. From the back of the scrum Granville headed left before dropping a ball back on the inside to a perfectly-timed run from Justin O’Neill and the former Melbourne man had the strength to get over. Thurston goaled.

The pace was breakneck. Oates did superbly to get back and deny Feldt, while Milford’s midfield bust had the Broncos crowd on their feet, though his team could not take immediate advantage and it was the North Queenslanders who scored next to nose ahead.

Thurston’s last-tackle grubber was played at by Kahu, and with the tackle count wiped clean they closed in on the posts, where Granville fed a spinning James Tamou and the prop beat Thaiday to score. Thurston again tagged on the conversion.

The points continued to flow, when Thurston lost the ball in a tackle made by McCullough and Gillett, the latter picking up to feed Reed, who held off two defenders to crash over. This time Kahu maximised the score to return his team to the lead. He also added a further penalty early in the second-half as the Broncos took every opportunity to post points.

The arm-wrestle for field position further intensified after the break, with juggernaut runs from both packs, supplemented by some testing kicks on the end of them as both teams tried to get the other’s defence to crack.

The Cowboys were dominating and Coote’s kick almost found joy for them, but O’Neill knocked on when trying to catch and score. Then Thurston did well to take Hunt’s kick at the North Queensland end, before the talisman’s own kick forced the Broncos to make the game’s first drop out at the other end.

Still they couldn’t take advantage, despite forcing a repeat set, with Thurston’s long flat pass being spilled by centre Linnett with the line at his mercy.

Thaiday’s lost ball looked to have cost his team the lead when Thurston put Coote through, but the fullback got over-excited under the brilliant tackle of Gillett and had a try chalked off for a double movement.

Boyd was very fortunate to get away with a knock-on from Morgan’s bomb and with the clock running down, Hunt’s dangerous tackle on Linnett gave the Cowboys a desperately-needed piggy-back down field.

Feldt’s one-on-one steal from Hunt will go down as one of the most important in the history of the sport. It gave the Cowboys one last minute, one last chance to produce something. And, after switching both left and then right, on the last play of normal time, Morgan’s searching run and audacious flick sent the man who had grabbed his team the ball in at the right-hand corner to set up those final few golden moments.

Broncos
1 Darius Boyd 7
2 Corey Oates 8
3 Jack Reed 9
4 Justin Hodges (c) 8
5 Jordan Kahu 8
6 Anthony Milford 8
7 Ben Hunt 8
8 Sam Thaiday 7
9 Andrew McCullough 8
10 Adam Blair 8
11 Alex Glenn 7
12 Matt Gillett 8
13 Corey Parker 8

Subs (all used)
14 Jarrod Wallace 7
15 Mitchell Dodds 8
16 Joe Ofahengaue 7
17 Kodi Nikorima 7

Tries: Oates (6), Reed (34)
Goals: Parker 2/2, Kahu 2/2

Cowboys

1 Lachlan Coote 8
2 Kyle Feldt 8
3 Justin O’Neill 8
4 Kane Linnett 8
5 Antonio Winterstein 7
6 Michael Morgan 8
7 Johnathan Thurston (c) 9
8 Matthew Scott (c) 8
9 Jake Granville 9
10 James Tamou 8
11 Gavin Cooper 8
12 Ethan Lowe 7
13 Jason Taumalolo 8

Subs (all used)
14 Rory Kostjasyn 7
15 John Asiata 7
16 Scott Bolton 7
17 Ben Hannant 8

Tries: O’Neill (11), Tamou (25), Feldt (80)
Goals: Thurston 2/3
DG: Thurston

Attendance: TBC
Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Ben Cummins
HT: 14-12
Penalties: 5-4
On report: Ben Hunt (dangerous tackle)
Man of the Match: Johnathan Thurston – One of the great individual performances in any final
Weather: Warm, dry.
Match rating: 5/5

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