Controversy as Cowboys curse continues

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 19 September 2014 | 20.01

The North Queensland Cowboys have once again been eliminated from the NRL in controversial circumstances, with a last minute try to Johnathon Thurston ruled out by the video referee.

The Sydney Roosters are through to the NRL preliminary finals after beating the North Queensland Cowboys 31-30, with a James Maloney field-goal the difference between the two sides.

Sudden death: Roosters v Cowboys live. Source: FoxSports

THE fairytale match-up is alive, but only after a contest that defied reality itself.

The Roosters maintained their premiership defence after denying the greatest comeback in rugby league history, with North Queensland charging home after trailing 30-0 in even time.

With 24 minutes remaining the scores were level, and it took a James Maloney drop goal with four minutes left to separate the scores.

James Maloney kicks the winning field goal. Source: Supplied

But there was time for one last act of drama in this epic, and, for third straight year, it fell against the Cowboys.

With 56 seconds left Johnathan Thurston raced away to score what appeared to be the match-winner, only for replays to reveal a tiny knock-on from Robert Lui in the lead-up.

Unlike previous officiating crimes against the Cowboys, this was the correct call and there could be no arguments.

There can also be no argument that next Friday night's qualifying final between the Roosters and Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium will be one of the most anticipated game's in the code's recent history.

Johnathan Thurston on the. Source: News Corp Australia

It will also be the first time since 1938 the two teams have met in a finals game.

Friday night's result was a cruel blow for Thurston, who produced one of his finest performances to single-handedly haul the Cowboys back and negate a finals shocker from fullback Michael Morgan, who dropped four balls and conceded Mitchell Pearce's opening try with a horrible kick.

Wow. That's all stunned fans could say at the break, following a breathtaking half of football that featured more points than minutes.

Daniel Tupou dives over to score. Source: News Corp Australia

If the Roosters have produced a better half hour in their 106-year history than the onslaught that launched this game into orbit, the footage has been lost in the archives.

Surely there can be no comparison to the 30-minute clinic; a masterpiece of brutal defence, straight running and breathtaking execution that delivered five unanswered tries.

The first came against the run of play after just three minutes, when Pearce intercepted Morgan's awful kick on his own line and raced 100 metres to open the scoring.

Mitchell Pearce tackles Gavin Cooper. Source: Getty Images

The Cowboys steadied after the early blow and, for another ten minutes, matched their opponents up front. They almost levelled in the eighth minute, but winger Kyle Feldt narrowly failed to ground Rob Lui's kick.

But the signs were ominous. In the middle Roosters props Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa were winning the arm wrestle with each charge.

They belted opposite Matt Scott into a limping mess. They thumped Thurston late after kicks, reckless to the response from the man in the middle.

In the 16th minute the dam began to bulge. Tupou grabbed his first try from a wonderful Maloney cut-out pass, signalling the start of the five-eighth's purplest form patch since last September.

James Maloney breaks the Cowboys defence to score. Source: News Corp Australia

The No. 6 had a hand in the next two tries, putting Michael Jennings across with a grubber that rebounded off the post in the 20th minute and then sending away the NSW Origin speedster, who found Tupou in support, six minutes later.

Morgan's third fumble gave the Roosters a chance to catch the clock, which Maloney took when he stepped through some abysmal defence to make it 30-0 in even time.

Then came the unexpected. Or maybe, for edgy Roosters fans, it more of the same.

The team's nagging inability to concentrate for 80 minutes this year struck at the most incredible time, allowing Cowboys forwards Ethan Lowe and Gavin Cooper to post tries just before halftime.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Anthony Minichiello make their point to referee Shayne Hayne. Source: Getty Images

The scare might have been more pronounced had Tautai Moga passed to an unmarked Feldt after the siren, but the 30-12 deficit gave the visitors just enough reason to believe as they galloped to the sheds.

Within minutes of the resumption, they were stampeding toward the biggest comeback in rugby league history, eclipsing their own resurrection from 26-0 down against Penrith in 1998.

Playing out of his super human skin, Thurston scored a classic show-and-go solo try from close range in the 46th minute to put the Roosters completely at sea.

A dejected Johnathan Thurston with teammates after a Roosters try. Source: Getty Images

Four minutes later their distress was exposed. In his 301st NRL appearance — equalling Luke Ricketson's club record — Anthony Minichiello typified the panic that had gripped his team, throwing the worst pass of his distinguished career in the in-goal.

It dribbled past a horrified Daniel Tupou and straight into the path of Lui, who touched down clumsily to put the Cowboys within a converted try. Six minutes they had scaled Everest from the deepest abyss, with Matt Scott ploughing across from close range to level the scores in the 56th minute.

ROOSTERS 31 (D Tupou 2 M Jennings J Maloney M Pearce tries J Maloney 5 goals J Maloney field goal) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (G Cooper E Lowe R Lui M Scott J Thurston tries J Thurston 5 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Shayne Hayne. Crowd: 18,355

ROOSTERS V COWBOYS MATCH CENTRE

See how we covered the game live below.

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