Cowboys fans better start booking flights and hotels to Sydney for next weekend, because the boys from Townsville are off to 2017 NRL Grand Final after downing the Roosters 29-16 at Allianz Stadium in tonight's preliminary final.
Preliminary finals time. Always surreal, but full of anticipation. The Storm have made it once again, and they were there last year. Tonight's combatants the Cowboys the year before, the Roosters a couple years before that.
Plenty of question marks over the attendance tonight too with only 28,108 at Allianz, but they've missed a terrific game to watch live. For the first 20 minutes, both sides had been grinding each other out with next to no rest, but a penalty at the quarter-way mark saw the Cowboys take the two, and they put themselves ahead 2-0.
Three minutes later, Te Maire Martin had a great run, with Roosters players slipping while defending, and he crashed over the line, right under the posts. Converted by Lowe, the Cowboys led 8-0.
The Roosters continued to struggle, with errors left right and centre, and were unable to complete a set in large patches, but a few penalties late in the half turned the game around for the home side, and while attacking, a fifth tackle play saw Luke Keary kick towards the left side chasers, and though Kyle Feldt had attempted to catch the ball, it went straight through him, and Latrell Mitchell was right behind him to pluck it out of the air and run straight over the line. The Roosters clawed their way back into the contest on the back of the try, a superb kick by Michael Gordon narrowing the margin to just 8-6 ahead of halftime. A brilliant half of football, but a much needed rest for both sides!
The second half began with a huge defensive tackle by the Roosters on the first play, forcing Coen Hess to lose the ball on the kick return. The following set saw a possible try, but Mitchell took out a Cowboys defender, and the potential four-pointer was deemed NO TRY by the Bunker.
Three minutes is all it took for the Roosters to make amends though, with a wonderful run by Boyd Cordner through the defensive line, an offload to Connor Watson and the 2013 premiers were in again, and took the lead for the first time. A dead-eye conversion from Gordon, with a boot that could have laser guides, the ball travelling straight through the posts from near the sideline for a 12-8 lead.
In the 55th minute, Michael Morgan made a stellar flat pass that saw Kane Linnett take the ball over the line for the Cowboys' second. Ethan Lowe made the conversion and the visitors re-took the lead 14-12.
It didn't take long for the Roosters to answer back with a stunning try to Blake Ferguson in the corner. An unsuccessful conversion from Gordon hit the post leaving the Tricolours' lead at a narrow 16-14.
The Cowboys answered with a stunning try by Kyle Feldt, a huge moment that the Bunker got correct upon reviewing the put-down, and with the conversion being successful, the Cowboys led 20-16.
A penalty goal soon after saw the 2015 champions push their lead out to a converted try, followed several sets later by a field goal from the boot of Michael Morgan. The game was as good as over at that point with a 23-16 lead for the Townsville club.
The Roosters are left to rue a missed opportunity and will be hungry to go one better in 2018, while the eighth-placed Cowboys have eight days to prepare for an epic showdown with the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium in the 2017 NRL Grand Final.