Cowboys V Titans: A derby not to be forgotten
When it comes to a Queensland NRL derby, many minds fix immediately on the Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos.
The clashes between the two proud clubs are rightfully placed among the greatest of NRL rivalries, but there is another NRL derby that has often produced clashes every bit as entertaining and dramatic as the far better known 'big brother v little brother' derby.
Rugby league legend Mal Meninga this week even called the Cowboys and Titans the "forgotten Queensland derby".
Ahead of tonight's clash between the Cowboys and Titans at 1300SMILES Stadium, the Townsville Bulletin goes through five games that have helped build the lesser-known but just as intriguing Queensland derby.
FAREWELLING THE GOAT
The greatest Cowboy of all time Johnathan Thurston farewelled his NRL career against the Titans, who showed Thurston the ultimate respect by filling out their Cbus Super Stadium.
And it was a fitting farewell, with Thurston leading his team to a 30-26 victory.
Thurston finished with 36 run metres, a linebreak assist, two try assists and 17 tackles in a typically relentless display.
Before the game Thurston's teammates cheekily ran out in replicas of his trademark headgear as he was greeted by his parents, wife Sam, three children and long-time Queensland teammate and fellow Immortal-in-waiting Cameron Smith.
But the Titans had no intentions of handing a winning finale to Thurston on a plate, and instead produced a performance that a times put dreams of JT's fitting farewell in jeopardy.
Gold Coast controlled the early stages, with fullback AJ Brimson bursting out of the blocks to find a clear path through for the game's first try.
The Gold Coast made its return to first-grade rugby league in 2007 following a nine-year hiatus, and they received no favours from the Cowboys in their first visit back to the glitter strip since 1996.
Cowboys favourites including Matty Bowen, Ray Cashmere and Johnathan Thurston produced an assured performance that was too classy for the NRL newcomers, with the old firm of Bowen and Thurston leading to the opening try.
Rod 'Rocket' Jensen crossed for North Queensland's second try after being put into a gap by Thurston, and club great Paul Bowman crashed over in the right hand corner.
The Titans had their moments and came within 12 points thanks to a double from Mat Rogers, but Thurston ended any hopes of a Titans comeback when he levelled his third penalty shot for the match to put the contest to bed.
Thurston all but secured another State of Origin start thanks to his matchwinning performance, Jacob Lillyman also sealed his place and Bowen once again put himself in the frame for an Origin debut, which came two months later in game three.
The Cowboys had secured their place in the 2015 finals heading into their last-round clash against the Titans at 1300SMILES Stadium, but coach Paul Green's men were not going to rest on their laurels.
They wanted to make a statement before their finals' run, and the statement they made put all premiership rivals on notice.
North Queensland hammered the Titans 42-12 despite falling behind 12-0 early in the piece, only picking up steam midway through the second half after working their way to a 20-12 advantage.
Jake Granville sparked the avalanche that was to come, darting out of dummy half in the 67th minute and grubbering for Antonio Winterstein to ground the ball.
Granville then scored his own try three minutes later and further late tries to James Tamou and Kane Linnett sealed the rout.
The Cowboys could have easily pushed past 50 points had they not missed six goals, but the statement had been made; this was the Cowboys' year.
MONDAY NIGHT EPIC
Michael Morgan surprised with an incredible show of pace and Johnathan Thurston was solid as usual, but the Titans were good enough to punish the Cowboys for poor control and score a thrilling 13-12 win during their Monday night encounter in 2014.
The Cowboys led 6-0 at halftime thanks to a Thurston try inside the opening 10 minutes, but it was Morgan's ability to outpace Titans halfback Aidan Sezer to a loose ball that was the major talking point.
Morgan's blistering pace until that time was a little known area of his game, but the secret was out at halftime as commentators and pundits expressed surprise at Morgan's eye-raising speed.
But the wheels fell off for North Queensland in the second stanza as a heavy shower gave way to handling errors, which the Titans were good enough to punish.
Kevin Gordon scored the Titans' first four-pointer and Brad Tighe pounced on an Sezer grubber soon after thanks to a Kyle Feldt blunder.
Sezer, who was cleared to play on game day after recovering from a quad injury, then sealed the two competition points with a 69th minute field goal.
Matt Scott scored a consolation try on the siren and Thurston booted after the siren, but the Titans had already done enough to seal the win.
The game was also notable for the three-foot brown-coloured snake that slithered onto the grass between the playing field and the stands in the southeast corner of the stadium, sending fans fleeing to higher ground.
The Titans have not won a game against the Cowboys since then, but they proved themselves as worth 'derby' rivals.
SIGN OF THINGS TO COME
Season 2012 appeared to promise plenty for Cowboys fans.
Finishing 7th the previous year before suffering a first-round finals exit, this was the year that the Cowboys were expected to rise from their mistakes and push for a long-awaited premiership.
But it was $1.8 million recruit Jamal Idris who stole the show as the Titans produced an 18-0 drubbing of a dismal North Queensland.
It was a game the Cowboys were widely expected to win.
The Titans were backing up from their season from hell, finishing with the wooden spoon after winning just eight games.
But any thoughts of any easy Cowboys victory to start off 2012 were quickly dashed when Idris scored a fifth-minute touchdown, and he produced the hit of the night soon after by pulverising Cowboys forward Glenn Hall.
Idris charged on to a Matt Srama pass six minutes from full-time to consign North Queensland to a disastrous season start, with their performance featuring a completion rate of just 16 from 36 sets and 13 errors before half time.
"We weren't good. A few unforced errors. We gave them too much possession and never got into a groove. We wouldn't have dropped that much ball at training the past six weeks - it was ridiculous," then Cowboys coach Neil Henry said at the time.
The Cowboys recovered to finish the season fifth and reach the semi-finals, and the Titans missed out altogether by placing 11th.
But it was a season that could have resulted in so much more for the Cowboys, and the Titans may have planted the seed of doubt.