By STEVE MASCORD
THERE were allegations of a bungled tackle count as both sides questioned match officials after an epic Queensland derby.
Reluctant winger Josh Hoffman scored the clincher for Brisbane with seven minutes remaining at Suncorp Stadium but an episode in which the Cowboys were almost awarded a rare penalty try attracted criticism from rival coaches Anthony Griffin and Neil Henry.
“By our reckoning they were on the fifth tackle when they reviewed the possible penalty try and when it was disallowed, they got the ball back on the third tackle,” said Griffin.
“So the Cowboys can say what they like about it but we had to defend for two more plays.”
Earlier, Henry said the first refereeing bungle had been Ashley Graham being penalised for pushing Corey Norman in the air when they had both been contesting the ball.
“You go, ‘what are the blokes looking at?’,” said Henry. “How can they get that wrong? Go figure.
“Possible penalty try … you don’t get a penalty …. it’s play three for you after you’ve made a line-break. They have a two minute break on a review situation.
“We’ve worked our way down there on a repeat set to score points and on two occasions, we don’t get a reward.
“They’re momentum shifts. Daniel Anderson, please.”
Henry and his captain, Johnathan Thurston, agreed that refereeing had improved this year and that the Cowboys blew the opportunity to win Friday night’s match.
Hoffman has scored seven tries in six games this season – but this was the one that counted.
The Broncos youngster may have been reluctant to give up the fullback’s jersey to Corey Norman this year, but it’s a decision that has triumphed spectacularly for coach Anthony Griffin, who was full of praise for his utility back.
“Obviously at the start of the year it wouldn’t have been his preferred position,” he said.
“He’s been fullback for a long time.
“But it’s all about what’s right for the team and he’s the best winger we’ve got at the moment. No one else could have scored that try.”
In the 73rd minute of a spine-tingling Queensland derby on Friday night, with North Queensland clinging to a 10-8 lead, Cowboys prop Matt Scott fumbled just over 20 metres from his own line.
A spread to the right gave Hoffman the narrowest of margins to negotiate. He dived, grounded the ball in-goal and – replays showed – his left elbow crossed the whitewash just a split second later. The video referees hit the green button.
Scott Prince’s conversion was short but the Broncos – who opened the season with one win from their first four games – had snatched back the lead. They won arguably the game of the season, 12-10.
Earlier, Brisbane scored right on the bell to grab an 8-4 lead at the end of an enthralling first half.
Referees Ashley Klein and Phil Haines had a difficult early decisions when Norman and North Queensland’s Ashley Graham collided in the air on the Broncos’ line.
Graham was ruled to have pushed Norman and the penalty went to the Broncos, who worked their way up the field and lay the foundations for their first try.
A deft midfield offload from Corey Parker kept the ball alive and Prince’s pass to put Lachlan Maranta over in the corner was almost poetic in its precision.
Rival No. 6 Johnathan Thurston then had his turn in the limelight with a delightful overhead pass to Brent Tate, who put winger Graham over for the 19th-minute leveller.
After Norman failed to find touch with a penalty kick, Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan sped into the clear but passed outside when perhaps he should have passed inside.
The scores looked destined to stay at 4-4 at half-time when Jack Reed deftly centre-kicked from the outside of his boot and winger Hoffman flashed through to score a few seconds short of the siren.
North Queensland won the right to take the lead in the second half, not in the act of scoring a try but in repelling waves of Brisbane attacks early in the second half.
When the opportunity came, it was Thurston who prised open a gap in the Broncos’ defence – by doing nothing. Rival captain Sam Thaiday rushed out of the line in pursuit of Thurston and hooker Rory Kostjasyn slipped through the resulting gap. Kostjasyn found late inclusion Clint Greenshields in support and the fullback crossed for a try that Thurston converted.
BRISBANE 12 (J Hoffman 2, L Maranta tries, S Prince goal) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 10 (A Graham, C Greenshields tries, J Thurston goal). Referees: P Haines/A Klein. Crowd: 42,556.