A moment of magic from Jonathan Thurston in his last NRL derby set up Coen Hess to give North Queensland victory on Thursday night and put Brisbane’s finals plans in jeopardy.
The Cowboys were down with three minutes on the clock, before Thurston’s kick sat up awkwardly for Anthony Milford and into the gleeful arms of Hess to give the hosts a 34-30 victory at 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Cowboys dominated the early stages as tries from Gideon Gela-Mosby and Jason Taumalolo gave them a 12-point lead midway through the first half.
The next four tries all went to the visitors with James Roberts, Matt Lodge, Korbin Sims and Tevita Pangai Jr all scoring before Kyle Feldt, Gavin Cooper and Hess touched down for the home side.
Te Maire Martin angled a superb kick for Gela-Mosby to down the ball for a try and, after Darius Boyd lost the ball in a tackle, Taumalolo outran Milford for a second.
Roberts turned the game by collecting an intercept pass from Martin and racing just under 90 metres to halve the deficit.
In a mixed night for Thurston, a cross-field kick in his own half led to a knock on from Gela-Mosby and from the next set Matt Lodge scored for the Broncos.
It was an eight-point try due to Martin’s contact with Lodge’s head as he was grounding the ball.
A 55m penalty from Feldt on the stroke of halftime gave the Cowboys an 18-16 lead, but Sims surged over from close range and then Pangai Jr burst through from 20m out to seemingly end the game.
The Cowboys had other ideas, however, and Feldt dived over in the corner and then Matt Scott set up Gavin Cooper to power over the line before yet another late intervention from Thurston.
Brisbane’s loss means the Wests Tigers can move within two points of them if they beat Canberra on Sunday.
Coach Wayne Bennett feels his side’s top-four chances are gone after the defeat and bemoaned the errors that played into the Cowboys’ hands.
“I don’t think we’ll make the top four now,” Bennett said.
“We made stupid errors and gave away four penalties in a row. We were trying hard but our execution wasn’t great.
“Johnathan has a history of doing that against us and we played into their hands at the end.”
In a year littered with close defeats Cowboys coach Paul Green savoured a victory which lifts them two points above bottom side Parramatta.
“Everyone’s been questioned through the year so it’s good to see the Cowboys spirit is still there,” Green said.
“We got back over the top of them which is pleasing.”
Green hailed the performance of forwards Jordan McLean, Scott and in particular Taumalolo – who led all players with 263 metres – in helping turn the game in the second half.
“Those guys did an enormous job for us,” he said.