The North Queensland Cowboys have progressed to their second Grand Final appearance in the club's short history following a comprehensive 32-12 victory over the Melbourne Storm in front of a crowd of 29, 315 at AAMI Park.
The Cowboys backed up their dominant display against the Sharks the previous week with representative stars, James Tamou and Matthew Scott among the standouts yet again. The most impressive on the night, however, was their influential captain, Johnathan Thurston who took the match by the scruff of the neck with his crucial kicking display and excellent passing game to play a hand in five of his team's six tries. Thurston's brilliance enabled the Cowboys to gain a 20-point advantage before he was given the remaining ten minutes off the field with a minor groin complaint.
The Storm opened the scoring ten minutes in when Cooper Cronk spotted a gap to step through before Thurston set up former Melbourne centre, Justin O'Neill just five minutes later with a well-weighted grubber kick. O'Neill found himself on the end of some more Thurston brilliance shortly after, following a beautiful delivery out of the hands which allowed O'Neill to stroll over untouched, establishing a four point lead of 10-6. A glut of possession seen by Melbourne later in the first half led to the renewal of their two-point lead through the utter strength of back-rower Tohu Harris who proved too strong for Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote to deal with. The first half action didn't end there, as versatile Cowboys second-rower, Gavin Cooper crashed over in the corner after a wobbly Thurston kick left Storm winger Matt Duffie swatting at flies, allowing the Cowboys to head to the sheds with a 16-12 lead.
The second half presented a much different Melbourne outfit to the one that upset the Minor Premiers, the Sydney Roosters in the first week of the finals, as they began to make errors and damage their 94% completion rate that they held at the break. They were finally punished in the 54th minute as a lovely backline play yet again orchestrated by Thurston, resulted in Morgan planting the ball in the corner. Replays revealed in back-play that the Storm's Fijian winger, Marika Koroibete had thrown a punch at his opposite number, Kyle Feldt which consequentially earned the Melbourne flyer a ten minute stint in the sin bin.
Things failed to improve for the Storm as just three minutes later, a Ben Hannant charge down led to Morgan sprinting away 50 metres for his second of the night. Koroibete's return from the bin with just over 15 minutes of the match remaining did little to enhance Melbourne's fortunes as Gavin Cooper crashed over in the 69th minute on the end of another terrific Thurston pass to also gain a double and his 50th career try to cap off a memorable display by the underrated forward.
The victory marks the second grand final appearance for the Cowboys, after they were defeated by the Wests Tigers in 2005, 30-16. However, now they prepare to make history in the first all-Queensland Grand Final of NRL history following three years of anguish and heartache as a result of controversial calls against Manly, Sharks and the Roosters from 2012-2014. For the Storm, lock Ryan Hinchcliffe heads to the English Super League in 2016 as for the third year running the Storm are left to ponder what might have been following consecutive premature finals exits.
North Queensland Cowboys 32; (Justin O'Neill 2, Michael Morgan 2, Gavin Cooper 2 tries; Johnathan Thurston 4/6 goals)
Melbourne Storm 12; (Cooper Cronk, Tohu Harris tries; Cameron Smith 2/2 goals)