Monday 20 November 2017 / 08:29 PM

Golden Points – NRL grand final edition

The grandest of all finals

It was a decider laced with indescribable drama, heroism and heartbreak, destined to go down as arguably the greatest grand final of all time, standing alongside the revered 1989 and 1997 cliff-hangers. Played at breakneck speed, the first half was characterised by sizzling attack (remarkably, the Broncos and Cowboys produced the most first-half points in grand final history), while the second stanza was marked by the Broncos’ colossal defensive effort – and Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Kyle Feldt conjuring that finish.

Thurston then took centre stage, putting an agonising sideline conversion miss behind him to bury the match-winning field goal in the maiden grand final instalment of golden point.

Grand finals are defined by moments frozen in time – and the 2015 edition was brimming with them. Oates’ early long-range try after wonderful play by Blair, Milford and Reed; Granville’s pair of brilliant assists; Gillett atoning for a crucial mistake by capitalising on a Thurston error and putting Reed away for a try; sensational try-savers by Oates, Gillett and Reed; Milford’s scintillating line-breaks; Linnett spilling his lollies on the hour-mark with the try-line beckoning; Coote’s double-movement; Feldt’s effort in dispossessing Milford then Hunt in a matter of seconds to give the Cowboys one last chance; the desperation of Thurston and genius of Morgan in the lead-up to Feldt’s try; the spine-tingling drama of Thurston’s conversion; Hunt’s tragic kick-off drop in extra-time; the Broncos’ frantic attempts to stop the Cowboys from setting for the field goal; and, of course, Thurston’s perfect strike to clinch the premiership.

The post-match scenes and interviews will live on in the memories as much as those in-game moments. Sporting theatre at its absolute best and truly a grand final for the ages.

‘Immortal’ Thurston all class

For so long it seemed like it just wasn’t going to be Johnathan Thurston’s night. A dropped ball that led directly to a try was his main contribution to the first half, while his valiant efforts to unlock the Broncos’ defence in the second stanza repeatedly came up just short.

But after escaping the clutches of Adam Blair and Andrew McCullough to keep the ball alive on the final play of regulation time and the emotional rollercoaster of the after-the-siren conversion, there was a sense of inevitability that JT would find the match-winning play. 

Amid the post-match emotion, Thurston took time out to console the hapless Hunt and old mate Justin Hodges, before making his way around the Broncos’ team and staff. He’s an absolute ornament to the game and quite possibly the best we’ve ever seen.

The notion that Thurston ‘deserved’ to lead his side to a premiership after three years of finals heartbreak has rubbed me up the wrong way for some time, but the extraordinary way he and his gutsy team claimed their watershed victory was genuinely one of the great rugby league fairytales.

Milf’s Medal ‘stolen’ by JT’s clutch effort

Well contained for the vast majority of the match, Thurston’s Clive Churchill Medal win owed more to romanticism than merit – despite the stunning clutch moments he produced late in the contest. Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford was the clear standout and would have been a shoe-in for the gong had the Broncos held on for one more play.

He made three line-breaks, had a crucial hand in the first try and was a constant threat for the Cowboys in a mistake-free performance. The three previous Medal wins from a losing side by Bradley Clyde (1991), Brad Mackay (1993) and Daly Cherry-Evans (2013) were highly contentious, but no one could have denied the dazzling Milford was the best afield in the most evenly-fought grand final on record.

Best of the rest

Milford was head and shoulders above the rest, Thurston was the match-winner, but there was a handful of players whose stellar performances contributed immensely to making the grand final the classic it was. Opposing centres Jack Reed and Justin O’Neill were superb, as were relentless No.13s Jason Taumololo and Corey Parker. Jake Granville was the star of the first half with Milford, while front-rowers Adam Blair, Sam Thaiday and James Tamou were outstanding. Matt Gillett recovered from an early bungle to play a prominent role in the match, and Scott Bolton and Jarrod Wallace were superb off the bench for their respective sides.

Shattered Hunt will rise again

Even putting aside his horrific golden-point fumble, it’s hard to recall a more lamentable grand final performance than Ben Hunt’s last night – aside from perhaps Graeme Langlands’ infamous ‘white boots’ display in 1975.

The gun No.7’s kicking game and option-taking was off, he will probably missed the first round of 2016 for an ugly spear tackle on Kane Linnett in the dying stages and he had the ball stripped with a minute to go to hand the Cowboys one last chance. The harrowing drop of the kick-off in extra-time – serving up Thurston’s decisive field goal opportunity on a platter – was the icing on a nightmarish display.

But the way the rugby league fraternity has rallied around Hunt shows the esteem in which the Broncos halfback is held – and he’s odds-on to make up for it with a Churchill Medal-winning  effort of his own one day. It’s been said many times already, but the Broncos would not have been anywhere near ANZ Stadium yesterday had it not been for Hunt’s virtuoso efforts throughout 2015.

Morgan, Feldt claim place in folklore

It’s destined to become one of the most replayed sequences in premiership history. Kyle Feldt joined John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson and Darren Albert in the pantheon of last-minute grand final tryscoring heroes, while Michael Morgan’s stunning assist will take on the same mythical status that Andrew Johns’ inspired blindside jaunt to send the snowy-haired Albert away in ’97 has. I’ve watched it 50 times already and probably will have another 50 looks before the week is out.

 

Crazy scenes in the 2015 NRL Grand Final! Boy what a MATCH!!

Posted by Greatest Sporting Moments on Sunday, October 4, 2015

Green’s stocks soar

Part of Paul Green’s legacy will be as the coach that conquered Wayne Bennett’s streak of seven straight grand final victories. Green, who earned his coaching spurs as an assistant to Bennett at the Broncos, has enjoyed a meteoric rise. After back-to-back Queensland Cup titles with Wynnum Manly in 2011-12, the ex-halfback was on Trent Robinson’s premiership-winning staff at Sydney Roosters in 2013 before landing the Cowboys NRL gig.

Green has transformed the club from a thereabouts finals contender to a genuine heavyweight in the space of two seasons – and now premiers for the first time in the club’s 21-year history. A high-priced flop when he was recruited to Townsville from Cronulla in 1999 as a star player, Green has earned perpetual hero status in North Queensland and shapes as one of the great modern coaches.

The case for golden point

I’ve pushed for a return to the standard 20 minutes of extra-time for finals matches previously, not because of the way the four previous golden point finals matches to date have unfolded but because I thought what effectively is a field goal shootout is an unfair way to decide the premiership. But the grand final changed my mind. It was perfect, really – and it’s the system we play under all season. Wayne Bennett’s gripes aside, I doubt there are too many that thought last night’s brief added period was not a fitting finale to the grand final and the season.

Farewell, ‘Hodgo’

Justin Hodges hasn’t always been everyone’s cup of tea and he was very lucky to be playing in the grand final at all. He struggled to make any real impression on the decider itself. But few players have ever exited the game with more grace and class than the Broncos captain. Consoling poor Ben Hunt, and paying tribute to his teammates and opponents in a touching speech as the losing skipper, Hodges signed off from rugby league like a true champion.

NRL grand final team of the week

1 Lachlan Coote

2 Kyle Feldt

3 Jack Reed

4 Justin O’Neill

5 Corey Oates

6 Anthony Milford

7 Johnathan Thurston

8 James Tamou

9 Jake Granville

10 Adam Blair

11 Matt Gillett

12 Ethan Lowe

13 Jason Taumalolo

14 Corey Parker

15 Sam Thaiday

16 Michael Morgan

17 Scott Bolton

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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