The Queensland derby is well and truly alive after the Broncos’ hearts were broken when the Cowboys staged a last-minute comeback in Townsville.
The nail-biter teetered on a knife-edge for the majority of the game, with improving fullback Valentine Holmes sealing the win with a field goal for the home side.
Known for close games, and especially one-point thrillers, the Cowboys/Broncos rivalry continues to deliver, despite the middling form of both teams since the 2015 Grand Final.
In line with their form, however, the Cowboys simply had too much power in the end and the Broncos were unable to hold their defense for the entire match.
Despite the dire two-win season that Brisbane continues to inhabit, Coach Kevvie Walters was impressed with what he saw from the powerhouse club.
“For 79 minutes of the game, we were the better team, I think everyone saw that,” Walters remarked.
“I’m disappointed but I know we’re not far away from cracking this open and getting a few wins.”
Whether Walters honestly sees improvement or is merely providing reassurance to Brisbane decision-makers remains to be seen.
Because, while this game was close for the most part, the Broncos did not appear to be the supposedly clearly dominant team that their coach would suggest.
While statistics alone cannot tell the story, a cursory glance would see the Cowboys with 51% of possession and an 80% completion rate, compared to the Broncos’ 69%.
It is a fact that handling like that in the NRL makes it next to impossible to win games.
The Cowboys would open the scoring in just the third minute, another sign of weakness in the Brisbane outfit – their frequent allowing of early tries.
In defence of the Broncos, the try from hometown hero Kyle Feldt was truly freakish.
The ever-reliable winger looked held up for all money before his long, reaching arm popped out from among the bodies, somehow finding the line from an impossible position.
It wasn’t long before “big brother” would hit back, Jamayne Isaako delivering a slick pass to the Melbourne Storm-bound Xavier Coates in the corner less than five minutes later.
With the scores locked up again, a promising derby beckoned.
Bizarrely, Jason Taumalolo would leave the field in the 16th minute, a worrying sign that Todd Payten was again going to rest his star forward.
Those fears were unwarranted, with the big man coming back on 9 minutes later and playing the rest of the match for an incredible 71-minute, 231-metre, 34 tackle, 5 TB, try-scoring, match-winning performance.
Maybe the Cowboys head knows what he’s doing after all.
The scores would then bounce back and forth for the rest of the match.
The Cowboys delivered some classy plays from their backline, while the Broncos’ performance was lead by their impressive forward pack.
Rhys Kennedy crashed over to give Brisbane the lead, then Lemuelu evened up the scoreline 20 minutes later.
Jesse Arthars then finished off a great right-side raid initiated by under-fire half Anthony Milford to give Broncos the lead with 19 minutes to go.
The Broncos looked like they might have done enough to win it, but the rejuvenated Jason Taumalolo, hand still strapped and all, could not be stopped from 10 metres out, tackle-busting his way to a crucial four-point with five minutes to go.
An awkward set play later and Valentine Holmes was slotting the field goal that would snuff out the Broncos’ party.
Brisbane will be disappointed and, despite Kevin Walters promise of coming success, they should be looking for answers soon.
Brisbane is a proud fanbase and they don’t tolerate mediocrity for long. Remember when Anthony Siebold was the next greatest coach? Look out Kevvie.
Todd Payten, on the other hand, seems to have cracked this Cowboys squad.
Playing with passion and intensity, North Queensland have only improved since the forced retirement of inspirational captain Michael Morgan.
Valentine Holmes is playing the best football of his career and Jason Taumalolo looks like he’s back. Dark horses for the Top 8.
North Queensland Cowboys 19 (Feldt, Lemuelu, Taumalolo) def Brisbane Broncos 18 (Coates, Kennedy, Arthars)
1-Point Feld Goal
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Jason Taumalolo (NQL)
2 Points – Valentine Holmes (NQL)
1 Point – Payne Haas (BRI)