Johnathan Thurston, celebrating his 250th game after over a decade of service for North Queensland, has capped off another memorable Queensland derby with a 75th minute field goal to take his Cowboys to a 19-18 victory in front of a packed out 1300SMILES Stadium.
On the play prior to his field goal, Thurston was hit behind play by Broncos prop Josh McGuire and got up holding his right hip.
But in a moment that encapsulated his 15-year career, Thurston brushed off the hit and remained poised to snap the game-winner.
Broncos back-rower Matt Gillett owned the night in a losing side, bagging a double and saving a certain try when the Cowboys were on course to run away with the game.
Meanwhile, Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt froze on the eve of State of Origin, with three ghastly knock-ons in the space of 15 minutes.
Whether it was enough to dissuade Maroons coach Kevin Walters is a question yet to be answered, but Feldt – who has been solid in all areas in every game this year – appeared distinctly rattled by the occasion.
Feats of sheer brilliance were punctuated by momentum-halting errors, until the Cowboys took the game by the reins and looked to shake the undermanned Broncos into submission 20 minutes out from full-time.
The Broncos were down to just two man on the bench with 27 minutes to go after Corey Oates (illness) and Jack Reed (head knock) failed to return after half-time.
Thurston was amped up in his milestone night; putting hits on, catching high balls and placing freakish high kicks.
His Cowboys came out a different team to last week, moving the ball and owning the ruck from early on. They were the first to strike with a soft, close-range try to Matt Scott via Jake Granville, but that signalled the start of Feldt's horror show.
Back row stalwart Gavin Cooper made amends for Feldt's drop off the restart with an error-forcing tackle on Anthony Milford before Thurston had Jordan Kahu fooled with the kind of towering bomb some halves could only conjure in a dream state.
But again, errors killed off any chance of points, while Gillett crossed for an easy try close to the sticks off a Ben Hunt short ball.
Feldt continued to fumble – off a regulation hit-up and another stock-standard high ball – and Gillett nabbed his first-half double off another tidy Hunt short ball.
A Jordan Kahu penalty goal had the scores reading 12-6 at the half, and things got worse for the hosts when Ben Hannant knocked on first hit-up of second half.
Gillett was the key in the ensuing try, running a strong line to free up Boyd for a clean face ball for Kahu's corner try.
The Maroons back-rower was again in the thick of it when he saved a certain try, cutting down Linnett just metres out in 52nd minute.
With a chance to put the Cowboys away, Anthony Milford blew a chance inside the Broncos attacking red zone with his first of two costly knock-ons in the final half hour, and Lachlan Coote made him pay with a self-assisted try on the very next play.
The Cowboys put O'Neill over 16 minutes from time and it seemed just a matter of time before they would wrangle a weakened Broncos to the ground.
But they stood strong, and while both teams had opportunities – including Milford's blown field goal 15 metres out right in front and Ben Hunt's 40-metre shot – it was Thurston with the coolest head of all five minutes out from time.
Next week's Origin camps will leave both sides with a large talent void, as the Cowboys face the Dragons at WIN Stadium next Saturday and Brisbane head back home for another Friday night affair with Wests Tigers.
North Queensland Cowboys 19 (Matt Scott, Lachlan Coote, Justin O'Neill tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals; Thurston field goal) defeated Brisbane Broncos 18 (Matt Gillett 2, Jordan Kahu tries; Jordan Kahu 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Broncos 12-6. Crowd:25,163. Holden Cup: Cowboys 38-18.