TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 09: Gavin Cooper of the Cowboys celebrates after scoring a try during the round 22 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300SMILES Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 09: Gavin Cooper of the Cowboys celebrates after scoring a try during the round 22 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at 1300SMILES Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Retiring greats reflect on Queensland derby thriller

JOHNATHAN Thurston and Sam Thaiday are two indigenous rugby league heroes, both feted in Townsville.

But only one could be victorious in tonight's North Queensland-Brisbane derby, and it was the home town champion in Thurston who celebrated his final derby in typical clutch style.

The superstar halfback sealed a brilliant Cowboys comeback with four minutes left when his grubber kick was pounced on by Coen Hess for the matchwinner.

North Queensland trailed 30-18 with 25 minutes remaining after squandering an early lead, but tries to Kyle Feldt, Gavin Cooper and Hess pulled the game out of the fire.

Former Kirwan High student Thaiday and Thurston exchanged pleasantries at full time after Thurston issued more heartbreak on the Broncos.

"I just said 'why', why every time we play it ends up this way?", Thaiday said.

"It's surprising we're still friends actually, he seems to keep doing this to me. He comes up with the money plays more often than not."

Thurston laughed when told of Thaiday's quip.

"It's a great milestone for him in 300 games, he's a local junior and he should be very proud of what he's achieved," Thurston said.

"It brings a smile to my face. There's great respect between the two clubs and it was nice to get one over him."

 

Sam Thaiday watches from the sideline in his 300th game. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)
Sam Thaiday watches from the sideline in his 300th game. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

 

Cowboys big men Jason Taumalolo (263 metres), Matt Scott (148) and Jordan McLean (163) were all superb.

The 34-30 win means the Cowboys jump two points ahead of Parramatta in the race to avoid the wooden spoon, while the slumping Broncos could drop to as low as eighth after fading in Thaiday's 300th game.

The Broncos were woeful in the first half and completed just 50 per cent of their sets, but trailed just 18-16 at the break after the Cowboys gifted them two tries.

North Queensland led 14-2 through tries to Gideon-Gela Mosby, playing his first NRL game since April last year, and Jason Taumalolo who was superb with 263 running metres.

But the visitors stormed back to lead 16-14, thanks mainly to poor Cowboys execution.

An 80-metre intercept try from speedster James Roberts was soon followed by a penalty try to Matt Lodge in the 24th minute after Cowboys fullback Te Maire Martin accidentally kneed him in the head.

The Cowboys took the lead 18-16 on the break when Feldt put a 55-metre penalty goal straight through the middle.

But the Broncos took advantage when Taumalolo, Scott and McLean were cooling their heels on the bench early in the second half.

Their young forward pack, led by young forwards Joe Ofahengaue and Matt Lodge, aimed up and the Broncos took a 30-18 lead through tries to Korbin Sims and Tevita Pangai after 54 minutes.

But once the Cowboys star middle third returned, the momentum swung on its head.

When Feldt scored and Cooper crossed for a try for the sixth straight game, the hosts had closed the gap to 30-28 with 15 minutes remaining.

It was Thurston, who else, to put the icing on the cake in another Queensland classic.

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 34 (Gideon Gela-Mosby, Jason Taumalolo, Kyle Feldt, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals, Kyle Feldt goal)

BRISBANE BRONCOS 30 (James Roberts, Matt Lodge, Korbin Sims, Tevita Pangai tries; Jamayne Isaako 5 goals)

at 1300 SMILES Stadium

Crowd: 19,663



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