A quiet night for lovers of Sportswatch, in the sense of no AFL, rugby union or netball on offer, but what a big night in the NRL.
The Roosters have claimed a surprise come-from-third minor premiership, helped in no small part by the spectacular self-destruction of wooden-spooners the Parramatta Eels.
But on the Gold Coast, it was all about one man tonight – the one, the only, Johnathan Thurston. He finished his 323rd game as he had countless others, an absolute winner. 10 points and a massive hand (or boot) in several of the tries, with impeccable kicking and a few tasty tackles to inspire home a Cowboys outfit that for the first thirty minutes looked anything but a game-winning side.
Their captain inspired them home, as he had so many times in the past – moving a bumper crowd on the Gold Coast that had turned out to pay tribute to the 4x Dally M winner and 3x world rugby league player of the year.
323 games, 2222 points, 923 goals. Will we ever see another like him.
Sydney Roosters win the minor premiership!
Well, they huffed and puffed with their full complement back on the field, did the Eels, but that horror double-send-off just blew this game wide open.
Five tries while Mitchell Moses and Michael Jennings were off the field, and poor old Brad Arthur must be tearing his short-cropped hair out.
It’s a fourth minor premiership for Trent Robinson in six seasons, and Cooper Cronk goes three straight, after moving from the Storm in the off-season!
A bizarre second half, 44-10 the final score. Will this spur the Roosters or the Storm on more come the business end of the season?
Updated at 1.30pm BST
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We’ve got live Premier League action underway shortly as well. For fans of Klopp-mentum, tonight’s fare is Leicester v Liverpool:
Scott Murray is your eyes and ears for that one.
At risk of groundhog day, its Mitchell in again. His third, the Roosters seventh. 22 points for the evening – what a year he’s having!
And now it’s James Tedesco under the post again.
10-44, and there’s still eight minutes to play. The off-season can’t come soon enough for Parramatta.
Latrell Mitchell with another try – the Roosters 6th of the evening!
And he’s pinged the conversion from the sideline once more, its 34-10 with 62 gone.
They just need +3 more to claim the minor premiership!
Moses rejoins the fray. A close up of Jennings in the sheds, and he’s shaking with tears. It’s been a rotten season for the Eels, and it’s finally taken a toll on the veteran centre.
You couldn’t watch this, if you’re a Storm fan. Are they on the take, the Eels? Michael Jennings has just been sin-binned! They’re down to 11!
They were average with 13 on the field – and had 0% possession with 12!
Try in 5, 4, 3, 2…
Update: Yes. Yes, they can. Two minutes later, Mitchell crosses again! 28-10. +11 to get!
A minute after that James Tedesco busts for the line! Is he over? No, terrific tryline defence from Bevan. They’re absolutely all at sea, here the Eels. They’ve not had ball in hand since Moses got his marching orders! We’ve still got 20 minutes to play.
Well it’s all happened in Sydney, no doubt about it. Bevan French showing a terrific pair of heels to fly home and bring the Eels back within 10; cue Melbourne Storm celebrations.
Four minutes later, Mitchell Moses adds to his horror night by getting sin-binned for a professional foul. Less than a minute later Daniel Tupou scores in the corner!
If they couldn’t get a hand on Ferguson, twice, with 13 – how will they fare will 12, the Eels?
Huuge ten minutes – let’s see if the Roosters can stack on the points!
Updated at 12.07pm BST
Terrific pass over the top from Luke Keary, and it’s Blake Ferguson in the corner for the second time tonight, and once again the Eels don’t lay a hand on him!Two perfect sideline kicks from Latrell Mitchell – not bad for a guy who’s taken both a hefty knock to the noggin and also the nose, but he’s slotted 4/4 so far: Roosters 20-6 with 30-odd minutes to play.
Half-time: Parramatta Eels 6-14 Sydney Roosters
There we go – that’s looking a touch better now isn’t it, Storm fans!
Some good work by Clinton Gutherson and tremendous backing up from the flying fullback. What is this – 2006 era Hayne Plane??
Like a hot knife through butter, was our Jarryd, a very tidy effort to fig life the modesty of what was in reality an ugly 40 from the home side.
Just eight the difference. They’ll need a +19 second half now, the Roosters to get their hands on the silverware.
I don’t want to call this too early, but if you’re a Melbourne Storm supporter I wouldn’t have too much faith in the Eels doing you a favour tonight.
They’re up by 14-0 already, the Roosters – more than halfway to their +27 point difference they need to claim the minor premiership – and the two tries they’ve run in already have featured some of the most abject defending the game of rugby league has seen.
Jarryd Hayne has been ploughing a lone furrow in defence almost, with teammate Mitchell Moses not helping from the boot – both tries coming off shocking kicks from the Parramatta halfback.
So, away from NRL. For those of you more cricket-inclined, we’ve got live action from the UK, as England and India renew hostilities in Southampton.
Tim de Lisle is your eyes and ears there, don’t miss a single ball:
And as hard as it is to imagine rugby league in Australia in the “post-JT” era, already we’re faced with just this.
It’s Eels v Roosters, and the not insignificant issue of whether we’ll have a final twist in the race for the minor premiership, after Melbourne Storm’s surprise loss last night.
It’s a simple equation – if the Roosters can win by +27 tonight, they’ll leapfrog both the Rabbitohs and the Storm on the ladder, and the silverware is theirs.
A not impossible scenario, you’d argue, with a wooden-spoon bound Eels the only thing standing in their way.
We’re ten minutes in to that one, and they’re trailing 8-0, Parramatta. There will be some fingernails consumed south of the NSW border tonight, you’d imagine.
And here’s the early match report from Australian Associated Press:
Retiring North Queensland great Johnathan Thurston has signed off on his 16-year NRL career in fitting fashion, piloting his side to a comeback 30-26 victory on the Gold Coast.
The Titans led 18-6 at the break but were dominated in the second half to ensure a winning farewell for the champion No7.
Thurston terrorised the Titans with his short kicking game in the second half and it was fitting, after doing it so many times before, that he landed the fatal blow in his final appearance.
Trailing by two, the No7 chipped and found Gavin Cooper with nine minutes to play, the backrower scoring for an unprecedented ninth straight game as the Cowboys shot ahead 24-20.
Gideon Gela-Mosby then sealed the contest with a 60m intercept effort in front of a sell-out crowd at Robina despite Brenko Lee’s 80th-minute try.
Not that you can easily capture these things in words.
Hardly anyone’s left the stadium here. The Titans players line up to shake hands, some even posing for photos with Thurston like rock star groupies. His fellow Cowboys mill around, handshakes, smiles, everyone almost a little shy or perhaps overawed by the moment.
The Titan’s administration present a special farewell jersey and JT gives a final speech. He thanks his teammates for making the season enjoyable and speaks of his pride in representing the region. He thanks the fans, and a crack wobbles in his voice as he thanks his wife Samantha “for making me a better person”, his family, and with trademark humility, JT apologises for taking up too much of everyone’s time.
Full-time: Gold Coast 26-30 North Queensland
And that’s all she wrote! The curtain falls on one the all-time, perhaps the all-time greatest players of this game’s careers – and his teammates rush to congratulate Thurston.
No huge emotions – just a simple appreciation from a very humble but gifted player. 323 and out. And would you believe he made the last tackle of the match.
Try! Gold Coast 26-30 North Queensland (Lee)
79 min: Phwaor – that’s a very special try, but it’s from the Titans!
An unbelievable pass inside, looping over about three scrambling defenders, and it’s under the posts for Brenko Lee.
They’ve got 27 seconds left to spoil this party! Surely not.You’ll remember his side were very much on the back foot at that stage. Sometimes it’s the little moments that contribute to the bigger picture.
Try! Gold Coast 20-30 North Queensland (Gela-Mosby)
72 min: They’re not rolling over the Titans, and they go on the attack – but it’s a superb intercept from the flying winger Gideon Gela-Mosby who races away from would-be pursuers, a terrific solo effort, nobody’s catching him!
JT slots another easy one from dead in front, 5/5.
Now, you’d imagine the emotions will begin to flood in. He looks calm – but internally is everything racing?
Try! Gold Coast 20-24 North Queensland (Cooper)
69 min: It’s Cooper who flies high to pluck one from the air. And who’s put it on a dime for him – Johnathan frickin’ Thurston!
Another Cowboys try off one of his kicks – how many times have we seen Thurston to Cooper. And would you believe – that’s JT’s 26th try assist of the season – more than anybody in the competition.
He’s added the extras too, 4/4 and that’s 2220 career points!
65 min: JT with the final tackle grubber – he trickles it in for an on-rushing Coen Hess but the big man is just denied by some desperate covering defence, and knocks on in the process! 20m restart.
And, hello, hello! He’s done it again. JT with a massive hit on Ash Taylor – and for the second time tonight, he’s forced a turnover as the ball spills loose. 35 years of age in game 323 and he’s still hammering blokes like they’re practice mats. Brilliant.
26,681 in on the Gold Coast tonight, by the way. Terrific crowd – possible a record in that part of the world?
60 min: The dummy! And for the barest of moments, it looked like he was clean through, was Thurston, but they haul him down, the Titans defenders. Only the one try in 2018 – surely they wouldn’t begrudge him one last four-pointer tonight?
They’ve been good value tonight, Gold Coast, in fairness. With literally nothing to play for (the battle for 13/14th place hardly a famous ding-dong) but they’ve showed intent, hunger and at times precision. Maybe that’s the most fitting tribute for JT’s last game.
Try! Gold Coast 20-18 Cowboys (Hampton)
52 min: I can’t count multiples of 7 that high, so we’ll just have to post-hoc justify these numbers later with significant stats from his career.. (5-2, the win/loss ratio in his first NRL season?) Great hustle from the Cowboys, as they pin the Titans in for another line dropout.
Just three minutes later they make it count as the Titans try a cheeky short kickout that blows up in their faces. Hampton crosses for his second, and JT adds the extras – 3/3.
Ash Taylor’s 46’ penalty the difference now, but they’re coming home with a wet sail, here the Cowboys. Or is it a dry sail? I’ve honestly never understood that expression, and I strongly doubt its utility in this present context, but hey, sunk cost.
Try! Gold Coast 18-12 North Queensland (Hampton)
44 min: Well, they’re in the mood after the break now. It’s a set piece – JT with the crossfield kick looking for Gavin Cooper. He pats it back and it’s the fullback Ben Hampton who grounds it. Try to the Cowboys!
And now the extras.
Yessss! A sideline conversion attempt – it starts outrageously outside the far upright, surely that’s not coming back.. it bends, it curves, and creeps back between the posts! 2 more points, that’s 2216!
Like watching David Beckham slot a freekick in a testimonial, for many in the crowd that little vignette was probably worth the ticket price alone.
Unlike Beckham, he’s not that pretty, our JT, and nor are his kicks. But they’re pretty bloody effective.
40 minutes left. Anyone else not want this to end, already?
No more slight of hand, no more swerving curving goalkicks, no more give-and-gos. I don’t think I’m ready.
Three minutes in, and the first repeat set of six – JT with the perfectly waited kick, and they’re trapped in-goal the Titans.