Thurston sticks the knife into Brisbane
BRISBANE's top-four hopes are in tatters after Johnathan Thurston produced one final magic act to break the Broncos' hearts once again 34-30 in another pulsating Queensland derby in Townsville.
On a night where Broncos warhorse Sam Thaiday celebrated his 300th NRL game, Brisbane looked home when Tevita Pangai Jr crashed over to give his side a 30-18 lead after 58 minutes.
But in keeping with the heart-stopping narrative of the NRL's greatest rivalry, the Cowboys sensationally surged home to evoke memories of their 2015 grand-final great escape that crushed the Broncos.
With Brisbane cruising in the final quarter, they sensationally capitulated, leaking three tries in a helter-skelter last 16 minutes.
Typically, the Broncos were broken by their bogeyman. In his 31st and final derby, Thurston kicked Brisbane in the
guts once again, slotting the 77th-minute grubber for Coen Hess to pounce and snatch a famous 34-30 victory.
To compound Brisbane's plight, they now they face a fight to secure a finals berth as the Broncos brace for a daunting home clash against big guns Souths this Thursday night.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett believes his side's top-four prospects have been shattered but he scoffed at suggestions Brisbane lack the class and commitment to win the premiership.
"I don't think we'll make the top four now," he said.
"(To win the premiership), you need to compete and you have to execute. It's not that we haven't done that in games this year.
"Maybe we wanted it too much for Sam (Thaiday). I can't be critical of their effort, I have been critical of their effort in some other games, but not this time."
Brisbane need to finetune several areas to challenge in the playoffs. Their first-half completion rate was woeful at 46 per cent, their defence was shoddy and with the game on the line, they lacked the desperation to repel the Cowboys.
Thaiday lamented the never-say-die spirit of his good mate Thurston, Brisbane's grand-final nemesis. His last-play class was a telling lesson for inconsistent Broncos halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima.
"Why does it end this way?" Thaiday said.
"There were some good moments, but we shot ourselves in the foot, the late-tackle count penalties hurt us.
"The Cowboys are set-play specialists and that's the type of player Thurston is."
Skipper Darius Boyd personified the ineptitude. His dropped ball on a basic kick return in the 18th minute spewed into the arms of Jason Taumalolo, who scored the easiest try of his career for a shock 14-2 lead.
After the break, Brisbane had seemingly done enough when Korbin Sims (54th) and Pangai Jr (58th) crossed in the space of four minutes, but Thurston had the last laugh … yet again.
Full-time NORTH QUEENSLAND 34 (G Cooper K Feldt G Gela-Mosby C Hess J Taumalolo tries J Thurston 6 K Feldt goals) bt BRISBANE 30 (M Lodge T Pangai Junior J Roberts K Sims tries J Isaako 7 goals) at 1300 SMILES Stadium. Referee: Grant Atkins, Peter Gough. Crowd: 19,663.