Johnathan Thurston has run a masterclass of kicking, in helping his side to knock over second placed South Sydney, 22-10 in front of, 17,171 fans at Stadium Australia tonight.
It was all to play for, after Parramatta shocked the current leaders, Manly-Warringah last night, so South Sydney were primed for a big performance. North Queensland, were looking to clamp down their finals spot somewhere, that fortune hadn't favoured them in recent history, giving us a big clash.
The tone was set, early on but it was the visitors who, took the initiative. North Queensland completed 20/20 of their sets in the opening half, dominating a Rabbitohs pack, that received deserved plaudits over the last few weekends. Jason Taumalolo, Matt Scott and James Tamou bent the line and the keep them on the back foot.
Taumalolo wasn't just a metre-eater though, the second-rower ran the staggered line from a Thurston pass, making headway for the try-line. It made a statement after 15 minutes. It was 8-nil but the noticeable thing, was the metres being made, as the Cowboys past halfway on each of their sets.
Once they established the position, it was left to the wizardry of one J. Thurston, to spellbind the Rabbitohs. The halfback had the ball on a string, waiting until the precise moment to send Kyle Feldt, the centre playing due to Matthew Wright's backdated suspension, to dive over for the first of his brace.
His passing game was sublime but the kicking game was the telling factor, of the magic produced by Thurston tonight. He tormented Lote Tuiqiri the entire night, pinning him back with chipped kicks, forcing dropouts. This led to Feldt completing his brace before the break, after he was turned inside by Moga, 16-nil at the break and one shell shocked Souths side.
Their perfection may have ended 45 minutes into the contest but North Queensland weren't about to let the lead slip, as they went again, dominating the Souths side. Once again Thurston trapped the chrome-domed Tuiqiri and it was a set play, from Morgan to Winterstein that extended the lead to 22.
Souths would put themselves on the scoresheet, eventually, as an improvised move, found Inglis on the inside before he sent a pass inside to Joe Picker to slide in under several defenders. It would be the closest to clicking, the second placed side, would get, as Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary couldn't get their games in order plus the former left the field, with a hamstring injury.
They added a second try late in the piece, as Dylan Walker filled in, at hooker firing a pass to Alex Johnston, to score his 16th try of the season and almost sew up the rookie of the year award.
In the end, North Queensland led by maestro Thurston, showed the Rabbitohs, a clinic in pressure and forward play, to put them in a comfortable position to make the finals for third year in a row. For the South Sydney fans, it was a massive chance lost, to leapfrog Manly into top position with a clash against a resurgent Canterbury-Bankstown to come.