The Eels were coming off their most devastating loss of the season, against the Storm, when they travelled to Townsville to take on the Cowboys on Saturday evening. North Queensland had also had a pretty decisive loss to the Rabbitohs for the last match of Magic Round, and suffered an early setback here when Ben Hampton was taken off with an injury in the first five minutes. Nevertheless, they got the first dropout of the night, thanks to a kick from Jake Granville that Reed Mahoney had to pop into touch.
Michael Morgan took the kickoff right on the boot, and Granville followed up by running into the defensive line before shifting the footy across to Matt Scott, for his first try of the year, and his sixth against Parramatta. Only Junior Paulo came close to stopping the North Queensland prop, but Scott was moving too fast, and was too close to the line, for even the biggest defensive effort to make much of a difference. With Jordan Kahu adding the extras, the Cowboys were six ahead, and looking confident at their home ground.
Scott took the first hit on the restart, and came very close to scoring again about fifteen minutes later, at the back end of some of the most sustained North Queensland possession all night. It started with a slow peel from Mitchell Moses, and continued with a restart after Blake Ferguson got a hand to the football. Morgan finished off with a great kick, forcing Shaun Lane to reach out a boot to try and deflect it, but Clint Gutherson responded with a terrific chase, managing to just get ahead of Coen Hess to tap the football into touch.
Still, the Cowboys had a dropout, and on the second tackle Scott broke through the line for what would have been the second double of his career if Hess hadn’t made up for his frustration with a marginal obstruction, causing the four points to be called back. Parramatta didn’t do much with the turnaround, however, as Mahoney booted the ball right into the legs of Hess on the next set, and sent it down the right edge of the field on the set after, where Kahu cleaned it up pretty easily.
The Eels got a big chance on the next North Queensland set, where they recovered possession after a low tackle from Tepai Moeroa forced Morgan to cough up the footy. Yet Moses responded with the biggest howler of the night so far – a mistimed harbor bridge pass to Ferguson on the first play that missed the big winger by a country mile and simply bounced over the sideline.Embed from Getty Images
Moeroa now leaked a penalty with a slow peel to get the Cowboys back down the other end of the field, where Jason Taumalolo mirrored Scott’s burly effort with a twist and spin over the line. In the process the Steeden came loose, and by the time the refs sent the decision up to the Bunker George Jennings had already carried it halfback down the park. Once again, the Cows were let down by a minor obstruction – this time from Scott Bolton on Paulo, who’d been the main opponent during J.T.’s run.
Meanwhile, Moeroa was taken off the field for an HIA, as Brad Takairangi took the first touch of the football, and Manu Ma’u broke through the line a second later, getting to the five-metre mark, before a quick play-the-ball and a last-minute offload from Paulo saw the Eels rapidly shift the footy across to their left edge. Tim Mannah tried to smash through on the fourth, but Parra were forced to take it all the way to their last-tackle option – a grubber from Moses that found Kahu just beside the posts.
It should have been an easy take from the ex-Bronco, and indeed Kahu seemed to have taken possession cleanly, grasping the Steeden with both hands before suddenly losing it without having ground it. Both Takairangi and Moses dove on the spoils, but it was Takairangi who managed to exert the fleeting downward pressure needed for this to count as the first Parramatta try of the night, bringing the match to 6-6 once Moses booted through a fairly straightforward conversion.
With eight minutes to go, the Cowboys got their last big chance of the first stanza, as Morgan ran into the line, and sent the footy across to Taumalolo, who put in the flick pass of the night to find Hess in the right corner. It was an eccentric combination of big men in the wing – appropriate for a game where so much tryscoring potential had revolved around the forwards and second-rowers – but the Cows were let down by a third obstruction, once again from Hess.
No more points were scored this half, but the Eels came back from the break with a bang, scoring their next try a couple of minutes in. At the end of the first North Queensland set, Morgan went to kick, but then decided to pass the ball out to Taumalolo, possibly in an effort to replicate the sequence that had almost resulted in points for Hess, and possibly inspired to a more enterprising play by the offload from Granville that had got him the ball in the first place.Embed from Getty Images
In either case, the risk didn’t pay off, since Josh Hoffman intercepted the Steeden, and then ran 95 metres, with both Morgan and Kahu chasing him down, but unable to ever execute a tackle. Full credit has to go to George Jennings, too, whose supplementary run on Hoffman’s inside kept Morgan at bay, especially during the final critical metres when the North Queensland halfback seemed to be gaining some momentum. While Moses missed the conversion, this was still a big enough play to give the Eels the upper hand as the next forty minutes got underway.
For a while, Morgan struggled with his last tackle options, culminating with an offload that went straight to Will Smith. Nevertheless, an error from George Jennings got Gavin Cooper possession of the football, and Morgan followed up by shifting it out to the right edge, where a superb catch-and-pass from Mitch Dunn finally sent Kyle Feldt over the line for his first four points of the year. It was the move that Morgan had been trying to set up all game – all season – and turned the match back towards the Cowboys, even if Kahu sailed the ball in front of the posts.
Eight minutes out from the siren, the Cowboys got their final try, at the back end of a Morgan kick that was cleaned up by Jennings, and sent across to Blake Ferguson, only for the big winger to fumble it right on the Parramatta line. To be fair to Fergo, it was a tricky pass, but the Eels didn’t even have time to process who was at fault, since Granville scooped it up and played the ball as quickly as possible for Tom Opacic to launch over the chalk out of dummy half, fending off Gutherson and burrowing beneath Daniel Alvaro for the final try of the night.
A field goal from Kahu sealed the deal a few minutes later, cementing a much-needed win for the Cowboys, who will be looking to consolidate further when they travel to GIO to take on the Raiders next round. On the other side of the Steeden, this close loss compounded what is fast turning into a nightmare season for the Eels, despite a few big wins, and they’ll be anxious to make the most of their home advantage when they host the Panthers at Bankwest on Thursday night, for a potential wooden-sppon standoff that both teams will be desperate to avoid losing.