Cowboys captain Jonathan Thurston reacts after the NRL semi-final match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville , Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.
Cowboys captain Jonathan Thurston reacts after the NRL semi-final match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville , Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. AAP Image - Dave Hunt

Cowboys just pip Broncos in ripper game of footy

WHEN I suggested to Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett at last Thursday's press conference following training the clash with North Queensland could put rugby league back on the back and front pages of newspapers following weeks of off-field controversies I certainly wasn't expecting what the two champion sides served up to fans last night.

But after three wonderful clashes in the past 18 months, including last year year's grand final golden point thriller, I, nor any other rugby league fans should really be surprised that is took 90 minutes and the brilliance of that man Johnathan Thurston to conjure up a 26-20 extra time win in another fabulous contest between two champion teams.

If that is to be that last Broncos game I report on in my long career, then I will go out a happy man able to tell my grandchildren about the amazing battle between these two great Queensland teams which play with a pride, spirit and passion that makes them so special.

In sport you here the saying at times that a particular team didn't deserve to lose.

That could be said for Brisbane last night.

But there's another saying which goes something like "unfortunately someone has to win".

That someone was the Cowboys who now are now just one win away from defending the maiden premiership they won in similar circumstances against Brisbane last October on the boot of their legend Thurston.

They somehow have to rally from a game that would have sapped every ounce of energy from their bodies, that had them sucking in oxygen for much of last night's monumental battle where they all playing the final extra 10 minutes purely on heart and for their team-mates.

For those who have been sticking up for golden point, the NRL finally got it right last night with the extra pulsating 10 minutes adding to a rare spectacle that will be talked about for years.

North Queensland now has an opportunity to become the first time since the NRL arrived to defend a premiership by going back-to-back.

The last team to do it was Brisbane in 1992-93.

The Sharks, who put their feet last night and watched the Cowboys played themselves to a standstill, will fancy their chances of knocking them off next week.

But we know this about champions, they are never beaten.

Last night they were behind 14-6 early in the second half but they kept finding that certain something until centre Justin O'Neill took advantage of a change in Brisbane's centres and rushed on two tries sending the 23,000 fans crazy as they took a 18-24 lead with 15 minutes left.

Great sides don't lie down.

And this Brisbane side was not done with as North Queensland went for the knockout blow, with giant young winger Corey Oates swooping on a ball and galloping 80 metres for a try under the posts.

The Broncos were back in front 20-18.

With the clock clicking down and Brisbane clinging to lead, Brisbane forward Matt Gillett, who only signed a new deal to stay with Broncos for another three years last week, fell victim to brain fatigue, sticking a foot back behind him after being wrong-footed by Thurston.

Despite his exhaustion it was bread and butter kick for the Thurston and the siren sounded after 80 minutes with the scores locked 20-all.

In a rare piece of sportsmanship retiring Brisbane captain Corey Parker and Thurston hugged each other at the extra time coin toss, a mark of respect.

Remember there were 12 State of Origin players engaged in this battle so the quality, speed and refusal to lose was of the highest order.

This game was there to be one, but by whom?.

As he so often does, Thurston pulled a rabbit, or should I say a flick pass from his hat to Michael Morgan who crossed for the winning try.

Just like Morgan's flick pass to Kyle Feldt that won last year's grand final against, JT's pass will be seen over and over and over again in years to come.

This was another classic game.

After weeks and months of talking about match-fixing, drugs, eggings and undesirables, rugby league was back in the headlines for the great game it can be.

It was a tough night for Parker but he handled it like a champion.

And the Cowboys did their bit, clapping a teary-eyed Parker off 1300-Smiles Stadium like the winner he has been for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia..

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