Cowboys’ big guns break Broncos’ hearts
Brisbane lock Pat Carrigan has suffered a suspected season-ending ACL injury as Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes broke the Broncos' hearts in a 19-18 thriller in Townsville.
The braveheart Broncos produced one of their most committed displays in two years and looked to have posted their second consecutive win when they led the Cowboys 18-12 inside the final six minutes at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
But in a throwback to the 2015 grand final, the Cowboys cheated death again, Jason Taumalolo crashing over in the 75th minute before Holmes stepped up as the hero with a field goal three minutes from time.
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Six years ago, it was Johnathan Thurston who landed the field goal to crush Brisbane on the code's biggest stage. This time, Holmes was the magic man.
The high-octane quality of this contest belied the lowly positions of Queensland's foes as the Broncos and Cowboys traded blows in another cracking instalment of the code's greatest derby.
To compound Brisbane's plight, the Broncos may have lost Carrigan for the rest of the season after the inspirational No.13 hobbled off in the 52nd minute with a suspected snapped anterior-cruciate ligament.
By rights, the Broncos did enough to snatch the derby. They led 12-8 at halftime and defended magnificently to dominate at 18-12, but were left to rue their inability to snap a field goal for a seven-point break as Holmes showed them the importance of execution in clutch moments.
The Broncos are finally beginning to look like an energetic, cohesive football unit.
The morale-ravaged mess under former coach Anthony Seibold is slowly being mopped away by his successor Kevin Walters, whose midweek spray following a sloppy training session is evidence of the standards he is driving at Red Hill.
Brisbane's first half was one of their most clinical in 18 months. They missed just six tackles. Their forwards muscled up. Their line speed crackled with intensity.
The Broncos are playing with greater hunger and the younger core who were battered by last season's floggings, such as Carrigan and Herbie Farnworth, are developing into more seasoned NRL players.
LODGING A CLAIM
The Broncos have told Matt Lodge he is free to leave due to salary-cap pressures but it would be a mistake to cut him adrift.
Props are renowned for their late maturity and, at 25, Lodge still has enormous upside. He was outstanding in Townsville. This was possibly Lodge's greatest game in Broncos colours, amassing 143 metres and fearlessly charging into the Cowboys midfield.
Lodge has the aggression to be Brisbane's chief enforcer, while Haas is a genetic freak. If he wasn't swatting away Cowboys defenders, he was making last-ditch trysavers.
Xavier Coates will decide his future in the next 24 hours and Brisbane will be praying he stays loyal.
If he does defect to the Storm, it would be a crushing blow. Coates oozes X-factor. He scored his eighth try of the season and then produced a barnstorming burst to set up Jesse Arthars' 62nd-minute try.
The 20-year-old Origin star represents everything Walters is trying to develop at the Broncos.
Coates' heroics were matched by rival Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt, who opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a remarkable try, holding off three Broncos, twisting, and reaching out to somehow ground the ball sight-unseen.
It was one of the greatest finishes by a winger in NRL history.
Originally published as Cowboys' big guns break Broncos' hearts