HAS there ever been a better NRL grand final?
The Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys have played out one of the great deciders in the competition’s history just hours ago.
In the first ever NRL grand final decided via golden point, the Cowboys prevailed, 17-16 in a thriller, aptly finished off by a field goal from quadruple Dally M Trophy winner Johnathan Thurston, the little master winning the Clive Churchill Medal to seal his status as on of the game’s all time greats.
And, with the scoreline so tight, the team at CrownBet.com.au has the two teams joining the Sydney Roosters as a trio of favourites for next year’s NRL title.
They are all $7 and impossible to split.
Our friends over at Sportsbet.com.au could not split the two grand finalists in the betting for next year.
But they’ve wound the two teams in a lot tighter than the CrownBet team, leaving the Roosters at the same quote.
Spokesman Ben Hawes said the bookie had installed the Broncos and Cowboys as joint $5.50 favourites for the 2016 premiership.
Minor premiers the Roosters are on the second line of betting at $7, despite being bundled out of the finals by the Broncos in the prelim.
Hawes said the other chances in the market were the South Sydney Rabbitohs ($10), Canterbury Bulldogs ($10), New Zealand Warriors ($11), Melbourne Storm ($11), Manly Sea Eagles ($15), Cronulla Sharks ($15) and Penrith Panthers ($15).
He said the Gold Coast Titans were the $51 outsiders.
“The odds tell us we will be having repeat all Queensland team grand finals,’’ Hawes said.
Last night’s match started at a break neck pace, with the first points coming from a Corey Parker field goal, in what many thought was a let off for the Broncos – the commentators felt the Cowboys would have been relieved that they didn’t have to face a set of six.
Parker slotted from 40m out to make it 2-0 and then The Broncos turned it into a 95m sprint for the line to make it 8-0, after Corey Oates finished off a beautiful chain of passes in a classic grand final try.
The Cowboys looked under pressure, but Matt Gillett put the ball down in a tackle and that gave Justin O’Neill the chance to cross, thanks to some slick work out of dummy half from Jake Granville.
The latter was involved again in the next try, helping put James Tamou over from close range after breaking through Sam Thaiday’s tackle.
Thurston finished that try off to give the Cowboys a 12-8 lead.
But Thurston proved he was human, dropping the ball and allowing the English international Jack Reed to barrel his way over the line.
Jordan Kahu’s conversion gave the Broncos a 14-12 half time lead with both teams looking tired and really needing the break.
The game tightened up after half time, turning into a defensive struggle that featured only a Kahu penalty goal that made it 16-12.
The Broncos looked home for all money as the final siren sounded, but Kyle Feldt crossed on the last play of the game to tie up the scores.
Thurston had a chance to win it, but his effort from the sideline missed and the match went to golden point.
Poor old Ben Hunt.
The Broncos man is a good player.
But he will forever be remembered for dropping that ball in the grand final.
He spilled it from the kick off, reminiscent of Herschelle Gibbs ‘dropping the World Cup’ when he spilled Steve Waugh’s chance in the cricket and Fremantle’s Tommy Sheridan spilling that mark in front of Cyril Rioli in last weekend’s AFL preliminary final up against Hawthorn.
All those single plays had dire circumstances for their respective teams.
And so it was that Hunt set the stage for Thurston’s fairy tale.
It gave him the second chance he needed to win it and he made no mistake, coolly slotting a field goal from 15 metres out to give the Cowboys their first ever NRL premiership after they used up their set.
“I’m speechless, I can’t believe it,” Thurston said after the game.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe what we’ve just done.
“I love these boys. They’ve worked so hard. I see it every day. The sacrifices they make. I love the club. Wow, I can’t believe it.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green said the win was a long time coming and heaped praise on his Thurston.
“This means so much to everyone up there,” Green said.
“We’ve been trying for 20 years to take a premiership up there and we have finally done it.
“The ice that Thurston showed there was incredible.”
On the Broncos side of things, it was the first time they had ever lost an NRL decider in seven attempts, and it was master coach Wayne Bennett’s first loss in eight tries in a grand final, but it meant a sad end to the career of retiring captain Justin Hodges, who obviously leaves a huge hole to fill.
“The Cowboys have been a quality side — you are led by one of the greats players of all-time,” Hodges said.
“To my boys, I love youse like brothers, keep your heads up and you will be back here with that ring, I promise you.
“To the Broncos fans back home, we are sorry but this group of men will get it done for you.”
The crew at Sportsbet is also running a special on the little master.
The bookie has opened market on whether or not Thurston will win another Dally M award for the NRL’s best player.
The bookie has him at $4 to win a fifth Dally M, with him to never be the number one player again a very short $1.22.
He won the game’s most coveted individual award this year, adding it to the three previous ones in 2005, 2007 and 2014.
But, even at 32, it’s hard to bet against a guy who appears to be at the peak of his powers winning it for a third year in a row.
It’s hard to find words to describe the North Queensland co-captain.
Before he arrived, the Cowboys made one finals series in their first 10 seasons.
He’s played 11 years since then and they’ve made it to the finals seven times, including a grand final loss to the Wests Tigers in that time.
For Queensland, he has never missed a State of Origin match since his debut, winning best on ground five times. He is the only player to appear in every one of Queensland’s eight straight Origin series wins and owns the record for most goals in an Origin match with nine. He is also Origin’s all time leading scorer.
The premiership medallion was the missing piece to his career.
But his legacy is now surely sealed, adding the flag and Clive Churchill Medal to his already bursting NRL resume.
Speaking of Origin, our mates over at WilliamHill.com.au have installed New South Wales as $1.80 favourite to win the 2016 series, despite the fact they were defeated by Queensland this year, two games to one.
Thurston, incidentally, was the top scorer in that series too, with 26 points.
You just can’t keep that guy down.
Here’s hoping he plays forever.
2016 NRL Premiership market
Brisbane Broncos ($5.50)
North Queensland Cowboys ($5.50)
Sydney Roosters ($7)
South Sydney Rabbitohs ($10)
Canterbury Bulldogs ($10)
New Zealand Warriors ($11)
Melbourne Storm ($11)
Manly Sea Eagles ($15)
Penrith Panthers ($15)
Cronulla Sharks ($15)
Parramatta Eels ($21)
St. George Illawarra Dragons ($23)
Canberra Raiders ($23)
Newcastle Knights ($34)
Wests Tigers ($34)
Gold Coast Titans ($51)
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