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Clutch king does it again

Cowboys skipper Johnathan Thurston is likely to face Gold Coast despite battling tonsillitis.
JT delivered at the death yet again for the Cowboys.
Photo Source: AAP

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Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
Johnathan Thurston is so good at key moments in big games you can set your watch by him. Who else was going to somehow draw his side level at the death (thanks also to Matt Gillett, see below)? And who else was going to make a scything run in extra time and come up with an extraordinary back-handed flick pass to teammate Michael Morgan for the winning try? As Carly Simon sang: "Nobody does it better."

Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
Played one of the best finals games in recent memory by either a big or small man to be, along with his captain, the most influential man on the park. The RLPA player of the year showed exactly why he received the accolade, running a magnificent 265 metres to put the memory of his alleged egg-throwing incident far from anyone's mind.

Junior Paulo (Raiders)
The prop put in his best game for Canberra on Saturday night and made life hell for Penrith's Nathan Cleary as the Raiders controlled the semi-final from the outset. Paulo finished with 132 metres run, and was a constant attacking threat as he continued to bust tackles and bring teammates into the game with a series of offloads.

Josh Hodgson (Raiders)
Canberra were back to their best on Saturday, undoubtedly bolstered by the inclusion of Blake Austin and Josh Hodgson, who had both seemed long shots to play at the start of the week. The Englishman put in a wonderful effort, racking up 31 tackles and generally controlling the play for his side, with his performance all the more impressive considering that he not only overcame his ankle injury but was also bedridden with a virus leading into the match. Coach Ricky Stuart was justifiably proud of his man and the example Hodgson set for his teammates post-match: "It’s what our club is about now. What he got through this week — the resilience in this group of players is amazing."

Matt Gillett (Broncos)
Matt Gillett's moment of absolute madness late in the game to gift the Cowboys two points and send the semi-final into extra time is one of the dumbest, most ill-timed things you will ever see on a footy field. With his team two points up with two minutes to go he stuck his leg out to collect Johnathan Thurston after the North Queensland skipper had jinked past him on the inside. Thurston of course nailed the penalty kick, and made Brisbane pay the ultimate price soon after.

Sitaleki Akauola (Panthers)
We love courage on a sporting field, which is why we also detest the lack of it, especially when it comes in the form of the intent to injure a defenceless opponent. Sitaleki Akauola had no other aim during his team's loss on Saturday night than to severely hurt Jordan Rapana at the start of the second half when he coat-hangered him at full pace as the Raider took the kick-off. It was gutlessness of the lowest kind, with Rapana very lucky not to be seriously injured and Akauola even luckier not to start next season with a suspension.

Who were your heroes and goats from week one of the finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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