North Queensland Cowboys 17
Tries: Justin O’Neill (10th), James Tamou (25th), Kyle Feldt (80th)
Goals: Johnathon Thurston 2 (12th, 26th)
Field Goals: Johnathan Thurston (83rd)
Brisbane Broncos 16
Tries: Corey Oates (7th), Jack Reed (34th)
Goals: Corey Parker 2 (6th, 8th), Jordan Kahu 2 (35th, 43rd)
Field Goals: nil
In a year comprehensively ruled by Queenslanders, it was widely predicted that the Grand Final would be between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos. With retiring captain Justin Hodges cut loose by the judiciary after a tense wait last week, each team came in on equal footing.
During the week, Cowboys captain Johnathon Thurston picked up his fourth Dally M Player of the Year medal, in a fairly predictable night at the ceremony. Expert tipping was fairly evenly split, and from the outset, few could tip with any measure of confidence. The impetus for each team to win was enormous. Without a doubt, senior Broncos players Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Justin Hodges would have liked to add another feather to their caps, all having had tremendous success alongside members of their opposing team with the Queensland State of Origin team. There’s little argument that Johnathon Thurston is the greatest player still lacing up the boots, and a premiership with the Cowboys would seemingly shore up his hold on rugby league immortality.
When play got underway, the first exchanges were exactly what you would expect from these teams – solid defense provided little opportunities for the creative minds of each team, and the first cracks appeared when the Cowboys threw away a simple offside penalty, gifting Corey Parker the opportunity to seize the first points of the match with a two-pointer from forty metres out. Not a minute later, a slick Blair off-load and a well-timed pass out wide from Milford put Oates over for the first try of the match after an unstoppable run. By the 8th minute, the score was 8 – 0 to the Broncos. The audience could be forgiven for thinking that may have the Cowboys rattled, but they put any concerns to bed near immediately with a clever run by boom hooker Granville directly off a scrum. His one-armed pass to Justin O’Neill as he fell into a tackle was enough to put O’Neill over beside the posts, and reduce the scoreline to two with an easy conversion.
Both sides reverted to the grind, and we were made wait until the 24th minute before Granville again threw a deft short pass to Tamou who, a metre out, spun off a tackle and planted the football in the same spot that granted O’Neill his four-pointer. The Cowboys wouldn’t hold their lead for long, however, with the Broncos showing that they brought resilience to the game. A Thurston dropped ball was the invitation Matt Gillett needed to run away with it, his pass to Jack Reed allowing him to do the honours on the outside. At half-time, the Broncos were on the better end of a 14 – 12 scoreline.
Two minutes into the second half, the Cowboys offered up another penalty, and the goal was gratefully accepted by Jordan Kahu, putting the difference out to a try. While not an insurmountable task, it started to look like the chips were stacked against the northerners, with three very good opportunities going begging in separate plays. When Linnett lost the ball half a metre out from the line when he couldn’t quite grasp a long pass from Thurston, Coote couldn’t resist a double movement, and Jack Reed denied O’Neill a second crack with some beautifully desperate defense, it really looked as though it just wasn’t the Cowboys’ night.
In the end, it turned out to be anyone’s night but Ben Hunt’s, when a lifting tackle went awry and Kane Linnett was dropped on his head, in the first major turning point of the game’s back-end. It looked as though it was all over, when with only fifteen seconds remaining, the Broncos defensive line was doing all it could to suffocate the Cowboys’ final chance. With the ball in hand, he backed away from the line and fired a huge pass off to his five-eighth Michael Morgan, who ran a huge line directly towards the corner, passing to his winger Feldt who planted the ball to the sound of the full-time siren in a moment that will certainly be an iconic Grand Final moment for years to come.
At 16-16 on full-time, the conversion could have seen the Cowboys’ walk away with victory then and there. In an outcome befitting of the occasion, Thurston’s all-important attempt hit the upright and deviated, denying each side a quick finish to what had been an incredibly level match. To coach Wayne Bennett’s immense displeasure, the premiers would be appointed in golden point extra time.
Feldt’s kick-off was little different from any other, but perhaps still shaken from the final minutes in regular time, Ben Hunt knocked the ball on from the catch. The Broncos did their complete and utter best to hold off the inevitable, but Thurston didn’t need a second set to slot the field goal and deliver the Cowboys’ their first premiership and his very own fairytale in a year that culminated in a showing of his absolute best form and a Grand Final that is one of the best in living memory.