North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston might have come up with the win but Melbourne’s Cooper Cronk made him work for it.
The NRL’s best halfbacks delivered a masterclass on Saturday night in their NRL preliminary final at AAMI Park.
Before the scoreline blew out in the second half, with the Cowboys running out 32-12 winners, Thurston and Cronk went toe to toe in an intriguing battle.
Cronk opened serve with the first try of the match, when he ran onto a Cameron Smith pass and ran over the top of Thurston to score.
But within four minutes, Thurston hit back when he put a perfect kick through for centre Justin O’Neill to pounce on for an easy try.
That set the scene as the Queensland State of Origin teammates traded big plays.
Thurston repeated his combination with O’Neill, sending a long ball on for the former Storm centre to score his second for the night.
A fired up Cronk then dumped Thurston in a big one-on-one tackle before he set up the Storm’s second try, finding Tohu Harris on the charge.
It looked like he would have the final say of the first half but, in the last minute, Thurston worked his magic.
He conjured a cross-field banana kick that Melbourne winger Matt Duffie fluffed and Gavin Cooper scooped up to score for his team to regain the lead.
The Cowboys didn’t look back from there, with Thurston also setting up another for Cooper.
And sinking the boot in, Thurston also won the affection of a young Storm fan when he took off his headgear as he ran off at halftime, handing it to the delighted boy in the stands.