Thurston does it again, as Charlie Cameron emerges from shadows

Johnathan Thurston is perhaps rugby league’s most instinctive player following his side’s incredible last-gasp win at the weekend.

His reputation is such that Australia’s quirky football divisions are no barrier to most knowing who he is and his on-field reputation as one of the game’s greats.

And so it was on the weekend.

There probably is a church dedicated to Thurston in Townsville somewhere and so the Cowboys faithful should go and prostrate themselves at the feet of the ‘Great One’ this week.

The North Queensland captain virtually, single-handedly hauled his side from the brink of elimination to finals victory in the Cowboys’ 26-20 defeat of Brisbane in front of a heaving and parochial crowd in Townsville on Friday night. And he did it in sensational fashion.

As skipper, and playmaker at halfback and five-eighth, “JT” inserts himself into the contest, and wills his 33-year-old self into the play, drawing his players in, and creating doubt in the minds of the opposition defence when he has the ball. On Friday night he repeated his 2015 Grand Final heroics to once again deny his fellow Queenslanders.

Trailing 18-20 with barely minutes remaining on Friday night, Thurston saw space and was clear to make some serious yardage. But a brain snap from Brisbane’s Matt Gillett saw the Broncos penalised after an illegal impediment. Thurston kicked the resultant two-point field goal to tie the scores at full-time.

With half the allotted 10 minutes of extra time gone, and demanding the ball be his from the play-the-ball, Thurston created a passage of play that only a player of his calibre could deliver. He effortlessly fended off Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday – in the only tackle he missed – and dodged, dummied and weaved his way past several lunging forwards before executing a perfectly-timed look- flick pass to put team-mate Michael Morgan over the line, and into the preliminary finals.

The sudden-death semi-final win keeps the Cowboys’ hopes of defending their NRL premiership alive. A trip to Sydney to face Cronulla this Friday night awaits.

WHEN Jack Wighton put fellow Indigenous All-Star Eldrick Lee over the line for Canberra, we all thought it was absolute curtains for their opponents Penrith. But the ref deemed the playmaker’s pass was forward, therefore, no score.

But it mattered not because the Raiders made light work of the Panthers in Sydney on their semi-final on Friday night.

Unlike the epic Queensland derby in Townsville, this match didn’t reach any of those great heights but who cares, right, because the Raider Nation will descend upon Bleak City (Melbourne) for the preliminary final against the Storm.

NO MAN would ever admit to believing in fairy tales but if you were to delve deep into the psyche of most football fans and ask the right question then, yes, ‘fairy tales can come true’ – the qualifier being that, yes, ‘football’ fairy tales can come true.

That’s what the AFL world is experiencing right now as ‘everyone’s second favourite team’ the Western Bulldogs attempt to play-off in its first grand final since 1961, and attempt to add to its only premiership from 1954.

They were known as ‘Footscray’ then, perennial battlers from Melbourne’s west now a national ‘brand’ due to a quirk in Australian football’s evolution from the suburbs to the national stage.

And didn’t the Bulldogs advance in some style; knocking off three-time premiers Hawthorn in convincing fashion to make a date with GWS Giants in Sydney on Saturday.

Both sides provide a perfect counter-point to each other – the five-year-old AFL-construct Giants with its draft concessions and talent-heavy list to the 139-year-old Bulldogs with a football story almost as long as the game itself.

Meantime, at the SCG, it was like Lance Franklin and Eddie Betts swapped their respective form for each other’s when Sydney and Adelaide came to play on Saturday night.

Last week, Franklin couldn’t get a look-in on goals against the Giants in his first goal-less final, while Betts could do no wrong in a six-goal bonanza against North Melbourne.

But when the two sides came together it was like ‘opposite day’, except for Charlie Cameron, but more about him later. Franklin was in everything for his side: pushing up, leading to space, even spoiling like a defender, and his work rate paid off after nailing 4.2 for the game and plenty of headaches for the opposition in the Swans’ win. Betts, however, was virtually stat-less to half-time, such was the attention he received.

A ploy to start him in the Crows’ backline and rush forward for the ball didn’t really work and he was closely checked all game. While Betts did eventually kick three goals, these came in ‘junk time’ when the game was already lost.

Last week, we talked about how Charlie Cameron got the Crows off to an absolute flyer, from which they never looked back. This week, we’ll talk about how Cameron was virtually one of only a handful of players in his team who gave a red-hot dip.

This kid is one to watch. He put on the ‘jets’ several times to leave his opponents flat-footed; one of his goals coming at the end of a scorching run from the wing to half-forward. Cameron kicked as many goals (2.0) as two of his higher-rated forward line team-mates.

It would be safe to say this finals series saw Charlie Cameron step up his game and 2017 should be his making the Crows’ midfield his own.

Darren Moncrieff

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