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Broncos defy critics to stun Cowboys in yet another thrilling derby

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Brisbane's week had been one of constant criticism. Too small. No halves. Coach past it. Dud recruiting. Zero superstars. Milford overpaid. Kodi Nikorima not a seven. Matt Lodge a myth. Can't make the finals. Poisoned Russian spies.

The list went on and on.

And from the opening exchanges against North Queensland, the apparent deficiencies looked partly justified.

Down 8-0 and lucky not to be further behind, Brisbane could barely get their hands on the football through 15 minutes of play. Soon after, they would lose centre Jordan Kahu, who was taken to hospital with a broken jaw and could miss eight weeks of football.

The Cowboys arrived in Brisbane as heavy favourites and few thought the Broncos could roll with their immense pack, which justifiably carries the tag as the best in the competition. Even without Michael Morgan, many thought it could be an easy night.

But a moment in time seemed to turn the match on its head. Under intense pressure and having barely touched the ball, the Broncos chanced their arm with a short drop-out.

They regathered and were on their way, scoring three tries in a row to have the Cowboys wondering where it had all gone so wrong so fast.

Milford spent the week getting screamed at by Bennett or hearing that Brisbane had kept the wrong playmaker, with Ben Hunt already a hit at St George Illawarra.

He responded brilliantly. The Cowboys are big but that can be undone by quick football, fast shifts and high-energy football. Milford plays his best off the back of that and took on the line time and again to keep North Queensland guessing.

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Tevita Pangai Jnr, the young prop given a start from Bennett, took his opportunity with both hands, scoring a try, almost bagging another in the second half and roughhousing an opposing side stacked with representative players.

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The Cowboys flew back into the contest after the break, with the Thurston-Gavin Cooper firm combining to make it 18-14, before Jake Granville almost scored under the posts before the video referee found a knock-on.

Brisbane surged, made it down the other end and when Nikorima raced over, it looked as if the night was won. But Granville had another say, making it 24-20 with nine minutes to play.

It was pulsating rugby league right down to the final siren. Thurston schemed and schemed but Brisbane's try-line defence held firm, with bodies flying all over the place as they scrambled to halt the edge runners and the power game of Jason Taumalolo.

Then Bolton made his charge and found just the one defender better, which had been hammered into place by the groundsman earlier in the day. It didn't move, he did and the Broncos are on the board.

BRISBANE 24 (A Glenn K Nikorima T Opacic T Pangai Junior tries J Isaako 4 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 20 (G Cooper J Granville J McLean tries J Thurston 4 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris Sutton. Crowd: 46,080.

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