Johnathan Thurston has stolen a desperately needed win for North Queensland in a golden point thriller against Melbourne.
Trailing 16-4 at halftime, the Cowboys avoided their worst start to a season in 13 years with an 18-17 win over the Storm in Townsville on Monday night.
It came down to a field goal shootout between Queensland Origin halves Cooper Cronk and Thurston.
Cronk appeared to have put the Cowboys resistance to sleep in the 72nd minute with a field goal in front of the posts.
But the Cowboys rallied late, Matthew Wright scoring in the 79th minute before Thurston slotted a sideline conversion from his non-preferred side and then kicked a field goal of his own to level the scores with seconds remaining.
Thurston and Cronk traded shots in extra time, including a fluffed left-foot effort from the Cowboys halfback before Thurston eventually kicked North Queensland to victory.
Antonio Winterstein had given the Cowboys hope with his double, after returning from a two-game absence following the tragic death of his brother.
While North Queensland was able to build pressure, it rarely equated to points in the first 70 minutes as fifth tackle options and errors plagued them.
Melbourne had leapt out to a 16-4 lead at halftime through tries to Kurt Mann, Felise Kaufusi and a superb effort from Marika Koroibete who dashed 95m after collecting a Thurston bomb.
Stuttering all night, the Cowboys came to life in the final 20 minutes and punched holes in the Storm defensive line giving the home crowd hope.
When Winterstein crossed for his second in the 62nd minute, a Cowboys comeback looked possible if improbable – ultimately they achieved a memorable win to lift them off the bottom of the NRL ladder.
Thurston said the win was vital to keep the Cowboys in the hunt to remain competitive in 2015.
“You have no idea (how much we needed that win,” he said.
“It’s been a long time coming.
“Finally we can stay in the fight.
“We had our backs against the wall there in the past three weeks when we’ve been blown off the park.
“It’s good that we can find that little bit of character there and stay in the game.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green said it was a win the club could use to turn their fortunes around.
“When you lose your confidence, you focus on the things you’re not doing well,” he said.
“We just need a bit of evidence to show that we are a good team.
“I thought tonight was exactly what we needed against a very good team.”
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was clearly fuming about some late referee calls that gave the Cowboys the field position needed to secure the win, but restrained himself to avoid sanction by the NRL.
“The blokes deserved better than what they got in the last five minutes,” he said.
“(But) we can’t say anything about that.”