As far as presents go, vast expanses of defenderless real estate and an open try line in the 79th minute of a game on the edge isn’t too shoddy. Happy birthday, Matt Bowen.
North Queensland may not have woken up celebrating Bowen’s 30th but Cowboys fans would have gone to bed toasting the ageless fullback, who sucker-punched Brisbane in the final minute to give his side a 28-26 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Gerard Beale’s mistake had given the Cowboys one last thrust in a match that lurched back and forth like an ocean tide all night. Bowen ensured the North Queenslanders were behind the most telling surge.
With one minute to go, he packed into the back of a scrum 25m out, masquerading as a lock as he often does, picked up and the ball and was presented with the most generous of gifts.
With Corey Parker caught napping, Bowen simply dummied, ran and scored. He could hardly believe his luck and Brisbane’s coaching staff were left to curse a glaring defensive lapse that cost them dearly.
“It did (surprise me). I always pack into the back of the scrum. The last play opened right up. The only option for me was to run. It made my job a lot easier. He (Parker) slid off me,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s game was a microcosm of a match that entertained largely because of the opportunities both sides presented to the other. Great theatre glossed over poor ball control and worse discipline.
He scored a brilliant try in the 55th minute, backing up Johnathan Thurston, as well as the try that levelled the scores to allow his captain to convert the simple chance for victory.
But he also dropped some simple grabs, including one that resulted in Josh McGuire scoring two minutes after the break, a try which helped Brisbane rush back from a 16-8 halftime deficit to a 20-16 lead in just nine minutes.
“It was one of those nights. We just had to hang in there. I felt like we did that tonight. I dropped a few balls. But the icing on the cake was the last try. I’m just happy we got the two points,” Bowen said.
“If you make a mistake, you want to make up for the next one. I felt like I did that tonight. I made a few crucial errors, scored a few tries.”
A few errors, a few tries. Bowen has seen it and done it before but more remarkable was the reversal of form by the Cowboys, who played one of the worst statistical games in NRL history last week but managed to beat Brisbane at their home fortress.
Broncos coach Anthony Griffin was brutal in his appraisal. It’s going to be a long week at Red Hill.
“We were very poor defensively tonight,” he said. “Some bad decisions and lack of effort.”
Cowboys coach Neil Henry was as stunned as anyone with the simplicity of the fatal stroke from Bowen. There was no set play or subterfuge, just quick feet and slow defence.
“I think he owed us a couple really. A couple of uncharacteristic errors there but he came through with a couple of outstanding tries. He backs himself. That’s how he plays. We needed it. It’s crunch time and with a couple of minutes to go, he pulled out the play,” Henry said.
“We normally play him at the back of the scrum. Their backrower, Corey Parker, turned down and he just took the opportunity. That’s how he plays. He’s won plenty of games for this club over the years by backing his ability.
“It was a disappointing game in some respects but as I said to the boys at the end, we found a way to win. That’s special for the team.”
Brisbane paid the price for a lack of discipline in the first half, where they conceded seven penalties and wasted a promising start. On a night where Darren Lockyer was immortalised in bronze outside of the ground, they could have done with a dose of his poise, particularly at the end of sets.
Corey Norman improved in his second game at five-eighth, in particular when he sailed in on the short side to set up Ben Te’o in the second half. But his kicking game lacked touch and too often Peter Wallace was left with the lion’s share of the decision making.
The only downside to Bowen’s night was a knee to the ribs of Jharal Yow Yeh as he dived over for Brisbane in the first half. The incident may come under the glare of the review panel although no action was taken on the field.