It shouldn’t have happened this way, not according to history and the bookies, which at the start of the finals series rated the North Queensland Cowboys as left-field bets to go all the way to the Grand Final.
But that is how the contest unfolded when the Cowboys, who finished the home-and-away season in lowly eighth place, saw the second-finishing Sydney Roosters eat their dust in a runaway finish.
The Cowboys humbled the Roosters 29-16 to set up a grand final against minor premiers Melbourne.
Once again, brilliance from Michael Morgan and a super finish by Kyle Feldt rescued the Cowboys.
Feldt, the man who scored the game-tying try in North Queensland’s 2015 grand final win, produced another brilliant and pivotal finish on Saturday night.
Meanwhile Morgan, who threw the miraculous final pass two years ago, enjoyed a wire-to-wire masterclass.
The injury-riddled Cowboys hardly seemed to miss Johnathan Thurston, with Morgan’s kicking, passing, running and tackling all at the highest possible level from start to finish.
Morgan’s clinic began with a sixth-minute 40/20 and did not let up, with the half-back playing primary creator in all three of North Queensland’s tries with the game still alive.
He also potted a field goal in the dying minutes before hard-working prop Scott Bolton crossed with the game already wrapped up.
At one point, due to a combination of their own errors and North Queensland’s excellence, the Roosters were unable to touch the ball for approximately eight minutes.
That period included a penalty goal for Ethan Lowe, a kick-off sailing dead on the full and a 24th-minute try to Te Maire Martin.
Even so, the hosts only trailed by a penalty goal at the break after Feldt failed to play at a cross-field kick, allowing Latrell Mitchell to score just before half-time.
The momentum continued to move the way of the tricolours after the break, with Coen Hess dropping the first hit-up of the half and Roosters skipper Boyd Cordner crossed soon after.
Morgan responded with a brilliant pass to send Kane Linnett over before Linnett’s centre partner, Justin O’Neill, literally threw the ball to the Roosters and Blake Ferguson crossed straight away.
But O’Neill got one back on Ferguson with a bone-rattling hit that shook the ball loose within reach of the Roosters’ line.
A few tackles later, Morgan found out the Roosters’ defence with a wide ball to Linnett, who handed over to Feldt for another freakish finish in the corner.
Lowe’s sideline conversion pushed the lead to 20-16 and the Cowboys were handed more perfect field position when Mitchell booted another kick-off dead on the full.
One tackle later, the Roosters conceded another penalty and Lowe put a converted try between the teams.
Not content with his superb night, Morgan then potted a field goal in the dying minutes before hard-working prop Scott Bolton crossed with the game already wrapped up.