MATT BOWEN told his coach earlier this week he was saving himself for the Queensland derby. He might now have to save himself for Queensland.
The standard of last night's North Queensland-Brisbane game at Dairy Farmers Stadium was such that Broncos coach Anthony Griffin thought the 12-0 loss was an improved performance on the 40-22 win over Sydney Roosters and even the 50-24 success against Newcastle the week before.
Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott said it wasn't far off an Origin - and it was an arena in which Bowen shone.
The contest was scoreless for 62 minutes, before Johnathan Thurston scooped the ball behind the defence into the arms of a flying Bowen, who put second-rower Gavin Cooper over.
With Billy Slater (knee) likely to miss Origin III, Ben Barba has been mentioned in dispatches as joining the squad while Greg Inglis has been favoured to become the new custodian. Bowen, who has been outstanding all year, should now come into calculations.
"He wasn't making some targets with his running [at training], and he said he was saving his legs for tonight," Cowboys coach Neil Henry said. "I said, 'Fair enough.'
"I think he'd like to represent. I think that desire's still there with him. It was a great performance tonight. Queensland have got a few options there with Greg Inglis.
"You never know, Billy might bounce back and be right in two weeks. [Bowen] wouldn't let anyone down, he's in good form."
Scott agreed, saying: "He's been thereabouts, obviously, but tonight's performance wouldn't have hurt his chances. He's done the job before and he's experienced in that role …"
The Broncos had Sam Thaiday (shoulder), Justin Hodges and Corey Parker (both leg injuries) out and Petero Civoniceva rested but Griffin continues to assess them by his own standards rather than the scoreboard.
He thought putting 40 past Sydney Roosters last week was better than running up 50 over the Knights the week before, and he argued the showing last night was an improvement on both. "I thought that was a better effort than last week, physically and desperation-wise," he said. "I thought we let in a few soft tries last week. It was pleasing to see their work ethic. They were honest. They never stopped giving.
"On the night, the opposition had a couple of class guys that just put us away.
"I was very proud of them there tonight. We got our defensive game back. We didn't have it a month ago. We didn't have it against Melbourne and we certainly didn't have it against Newcastle. We've worked very hard and we've set a standard for ourselves again."
Peter Wallace was denied a 15th minute try because Hannant had obstructed defender Thurston. The Broncos had been unhappy with that.
Cowboy Glenn Hall crossed nine minutes into the second half but was held up by Ben Teo. The try was disallowed without video referee Chris Ward being consulted.
And 11 minutes after Cooper's try, Cowboys centre Kane Linnett crossed for the clincher, and Thurston converted from out wide.
But the true story of the match came in sweeping attacks and desperate cover defence and kick chasing.
NSW star James Tamou pinned Lachlan Maranta in his own in-goal in the 56th minute when his lungs must have been screaming. Battered in Origin, Brent Tate was so feisty and determined he was marched for dissent at one point.
Ray Thompson pulled off a try-saver on Josh Hoffman he was not entitled to.
Asked to compare the two matches he'd played this week, prop Scott said: "It was pretty much up there. It's not the sort of game you want. I was hoping for a slow game.
"It's the quickest NRL game I've played in. It was probably the best we've held in there in a long time."
"I thought JT was sensational. For him to get through the amount of work he does, two days after an Origin, was something special - and we needed it tonight.
NORTH QUEENSLAND 12 (G Cooper K Linnett tries J Thurston 2 goals) bt BRISBANE 0 at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: Gavin Morris, Jason Robinson. Crowd: 20,367