By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S a hoary old line that positions on the table mean little when derbies are played. But when the under-performing North Queensland played the equally disappointing Brisbane, the lowly rankings only added to the clash’s significance.
And it was two players who, like their clubs, have seen better days who played starring roles at the death in front of 17,000 fans at 1300 Smiles Stadium.
First, it was off-contract Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen. Taking the ball from a scrum win 30 metres out, he dummied past Scott Prince – another veteran with an uncertain future – and glided away before making sure he dotted down between the posts with 22 minutes left.
But Prince was to have his revenge. Reportedly told he will not play first grade next year, he landed the winning conversion after Justin Hodges crossed with six left.
Early on, fate had seemed to conspire against North Queensland , Bronco Matt Gillett managing to reclaim the ball amid a clutch of Cowboys from the kick-off.
And five minutes later, the decision to switch Ben Hunt to halfback bore juicy fruit for coach Anthony Griffin. The long-time benchman send rookie Corey Oates skimming down the left touchline before he off-loaded infield for the no.7 to score a converted try.
Soon after, with his side attempting to cart the ball out of trouble, NQ veteran Matt Bowen knocked on. Then rival Andrew McCullough almost forgot to pick up the ball from dummy half.
But that was one of the few passages of play that reflected the lowly positions of both sides. Mostly, it was entertaining, end-to-end fare.
After he only just failed to claim a Prince bomb to his wing, Oates raced onto Justin Hodges’ pass to score his second first-half try in the 14th minute. Prince duly goaled for 12-0 and the Broncos looked as penetrative as they have all season.
Denied a try by an Origin III streaker, North Queensland prop Matt Scott was robbed of another when he lost the ball over the stripe at 18 minutes.
Another Cowboys opportunity was wasted when Anthony Mitchell lobbed a forward pass from dummy half into the arms of Joel Reithmuller.
But a quick tap-on from Brent Tate gave winger Kalifa FaiFai Loa NQ’s first touchdown with four minutes left in the first half. Captain Johnathan Thurston failed with his conversion attempt.
Three minutes more elapsed before North Queensland second rower Glenn Hall was pulled down short and appeared to unsuccessfully reach out to score.
Video referees Justin Morgan and Chris Ward, however, ruled that the ball had touched the stripe on the second attempt – and penalised Hall for a double movement.
The Broncos finished the first half firmly on the front foot, Justin Hodges showing ostentatious enterprise sucking in four defenders on the blindside before offloading to Oates.
It would have been one of the tries of the season but the winger’s overhead pass infield to second rower Gillett went forward.
Switched to his preferred position of fullback, Brisbane’s Josh Hoffman was seeing stars early in the second half when he copped knees to the head while trying to take a bomb.
The New Zealand international continued but soon afterwards, Oates was booked for a high shot on Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan.
“What about the knees to Hoffman’s head over there?” Broncos captain Sam Thaiday protested. “He (Morgan) fell into that.”
Early indications that Brisbane might coast to victory were dispelled when NQ moved to with two points with 18 minutes remaining. Five-eighth Thurston sent second rower Gavin Cooper crashing over and the video referees flashed the green light before the no.6 added the extras.
There were calls for a penalty try for FaiFai Loa late in the game when he appeared to be taken out by Oates while chasing a kick – but they were optimistic at best.
NORTH QUEENSLAND 18 (K FaiFai Loa G Cooper M Bowen tries J Thurston 2 goals) bt BRISBANE 16 (B Hunt C Oates tries Prince 2 goals) at 1300smiles Stadium. Referees: G Sutton/G Atkins. Crowd: 17,701.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD