Master coach Wayne Bennett has finally won a finals match at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane downing North Queensland 16-12 in their NRL qualifying final on Saturday night.
The second-ranked Broncos are one step closer to ending their longest title drought and vying for trophy No.7, earning a home preliminary final and a week off with the two tries a piece thriller.
And any doubts Bennett hasn’t got his winning groove back upon his return to Brisbane after a seven-year hiatus were erased when he finally broke his finals duck at their home ground.
Remarkably the win in front of 50,388 fans marked Bennett’s first finals win at Suncorp Stadium, ending an eight-game losing run (six with Broncos, two with Dragons).
Brisbane also notched their maiden finals win over Queensland rivals the Cowboys, who will host the winner of Sunday’s Cronulla-South Sydney clash in an elimination final next week.
Played at a frantic pace, something had to give in the second half in a classic derby – and a gutsy North Queensland were the ones who blinked.
With Johnathan Thurston threatening to spark the Cowboys, Brisbane bench utility Kodi Nikorima’s bust launched pivot Anthony Milford toward the tryline in the 65th minute to make it 16-6.
Thurston wasn’t to be denied, scoring in the 71st minute off a Justin O’Neill grubber to make it a four-point ball game when he converted.
However, a rare poor kick from Thurston on the final play of the game sealed a memorable triumph in front of a sell-out crowd – Brisbane’s first finals win since 2011.
North Queensland haven’t won an away final since 2005.
They had scored the most second-half points this year than any other team and had outscored their opponents 44-0 in the final 20 minutes of their last three matches.
The Cowboys dropped their guard in the first half, a Gavin Cooper slip letting Broncos No.7 Ben Hunt dart through to score the opening try in the 27th minute and set up Brisbane’s 8-2 halftime lead.