Queensland Outback's two-year title drought has broken, defeating North Queensland United 40-16 in the annual encounter at Sunshine Coast Stadium this afternoon (Sunday, July 15).
Travelling hundreds of kilometres for the seventh instalment between the two rivals, both teams arrived in camp on Thursday to prepare for the rewarding annual "Origin-like" clash.
After a heavy loss last year in Cairns, the Outback were determined to reverse the result and started positively, scoring in the fourth minute after a Jack Just 'show and go' fooled the NQ defence.
At 6-0, the pressure continued to mount on the defending premiers, conceding a penalty near the posts to which Warren Draper added two extra points to the total in the eighth minute.
When it rains, it pours in the Outback as captain Brenton Stonier added his name to the scoring sheet in his fourth appearance, crashing over from dummy-half two minutes later.
It was an Outback spectacular minus the RM's in the opening stages of the first half with the boys from the bush starving NQ of the ball, but a relieving penalty to United led to their first points of the game.
A deep kick for touch forced Outback to defend their end and a few plays later, Alex Tipoti broke the line before skilfully offloading to Dominic Macumboy on the inside to bridge the gap to 14-4 after 20 minutes.
Outback hit back in their next attacking set to return the margin to 14, Jackson Shelswell on the end of a prompt tip-on from Tommy Krosch.
Crucial errors and silly fifth-tackle options made the title-defence difficult, but the NQ forward pack was unstoppable, particularly Leon Bond's efforts near the line.
Timing his run to perfection, Bond steamed in from the ten-metre line to bust through and stroll over, making it 18-10 to motivate his side for a big second half.
AJ Hauff burst NQ's confidence bubble with a minute to go, giving his Outback side a 24-10 lead at the break.
A positive start to the second stanza was imperative for NQ to remain in touch, but they made a costly error, turning over the ball 25 metres from their line.
In the following set, Joey Packer followed in the footsteps of his skipper and scored a skilful try out of dummy-half to all but ensure the trophy was heading to the bush.
Outback continued to pepper the North's defensive line for the next 20 minutes, but it stayed solid.
With only 10 minutes left, the slightest glimmer of hope remained when Tabua Woosup crossed in the south-eastern corner to make it 30-16.
The bar was set high for United and as the time ticked down, the hope of defending their title continued to dim.
The hope completely burned out with three minutes to go after Michael Fletcher earned himself a try after a strong and busy performance off the bench.
Just added the cherries on top in the 'try of the day' with only seconds on the clock.
In the following set after the try, Shelswell broke the line and ran 40 metres down the western touchline to then offload to Alex Coonan in front of the posts, who then freakishly threw the ball back in-field to a supporting Just, finishing the game much like he started.
Michael Fletcher earned man of the match honours for the Outback for his courageous efforts off the bench; meanwhile, Dominic Macumboy was the best on field for United, contributing to his side at fullback with a strong defensive effort and skilful kick returns.
The win breaks a two-year NQ winning-streak with the unique Skytrans trophy to return to the bush for the year.
The match is a rewarding experience for both teams who make a significant commitment to play the greatest game of all in the rural and remote areas of the state and looks set to continue next year at a venue yet to be determined.
Queensland Outback 40 (Jack Just 2, Brenton Stonier, Jackson Shelswell, AJ Hauff, Joe Packer, Michael Fletcher tries; Warren Draper 5, Brenton Stoiner goals) defeated NQ United 16 (Dominic Macumboy, Leon Bond, Tabua Woosup tries; Isaac Rokeby 2 goals) at Sunshine Coast Stadium
Photos courtesy of Ritchie Duce - Level Eleven Photography