The untravelled Eels set about taking on the unrivalled Cowboys in Townsville and from the outset it looked like both teams had one thing on their mind, crush the other team into the terra firma.
The early relentless pressure almost paid off as the Eels busted the Cowboys open. However with the lead runner hitting the defensive line it was a let off for the Cowboys.
Off the penalty Beau Scott’s feverish obsession with Thurston caused him to chase Thurston out of the line, it left a hole in the line and Thurston turned the ball back on the inside of Cooper to go in under the sticks.
The heavy hitting continued with both teams laying into each other ferociously. A couple sets coming out of their end and the Eels put the ball into touch both times and it was clear this was a game plan. They didn’t want to give Coote room to move at the back. And perhaps the searing heat was getting to them after only 20 minutes.
The next time the Cowboys were in the Eels red zone and Norman rushed out of the line for Thurston. On the next play it left a hole inside for Morgan to step of his right foot and put Coote over next to the posts.
Not long after Thurston was rushed again and it allowed him to get a grubbing kick out the back and it was only a poor bounce away from Winterstein that meant it didn't result in a try.
The Eels had all the possession and all the field position and must have wondered what more they needed to do as they went into half time 14 nil down.
The second half started as the first did. Heavy hitting, heavy running oh and throw in some heavy hitting.
The Cowboys dropping the ball into the Eels hands, and into Radradra’s hands and he scooted the length to score the Eels first try and get them back into the game.
The Eels second phase play started to open the Cowboys up and in broken play Norman put one in behind the line for Semi to bag a double and the score 14-10.
Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for the Cowboys with Thurston throwing an intercept pass for Jennings and he scooted away like grease lighting. Parra hit the lead 16-14 and for the first time at home this season the Cowboys were firmly under the pump.
At the 65th minute Norman interfering with Morgan in a race for the ball, saw the Eels pivot give away a penalty which allowed Thurston to lock up the scores. And it also landed Norman in the bin for a professional foul.
The Cowboys brought Jason Taumalolo back on and they got their roll on again and at the 70th minute Thurston was rushed again which left space outside and a beautiful cut out ball from JT put Winterstein in the corner. And with the Cowboys leading 22-16 after the conversion it would be nervous last 9 minutes for the men up north.
But the nerves only lasted 2 minutes, when off a scrum, Morgan pulled the Eels pants down and almost walked through the line for a very soft try.
At the full time mark Nth Qld put on a short side raid and helped the for and against a little with Morgan going in for his second of a Feldt kick.
The final scoreline of 32-16 not really indicative of the Eels effort and how close the match really was.
The take aways
Coote - The Cowboys need to do whatever they can to keep him. He was the difference between the sides, repelling the Eels so many times.
Foran - Brilliant in a beaten side. He is a premier half back. New Zealand need to pick him for the test and he will provide the Aus side with a lot of headaches.
The lead runner debacle - This rule needs to be looked at. Morgan was never in the play in the Eels first dis-allowed try, but because the lead runner touched him (barely) the try was called back. This is big because the Eels had all the running to this point and it turned the first half.
Thurston - Again controls the game. When will sides learn he is too crafty to be targeted the way he was. Four times rushed by defenders , four times leaving defensive holes. Three leading to tries. And the third time was only not so because of a terrible bounce for Winterstein from the grubbing kick in the first half.
All teams - You must complete sets to beat the Cowboys. The Eels handling errors certainly letting them down.
The Cows can grind - They have thumped many sides this year, but in this game they proved they can also grind out a win.
Parramatta can take a lot away from the game. They stayed in the grind and are showing they will be a dangerous side in 2016. After the points cut if they can scrape their way into the 8 they will be right up there.
The Cowboys solidified themselves as the form team of the comp. Their first half in particular showed they can grind away with any side and still sway the contest their way.
My final word is that if Lachlan Coote didn't just play himself into a NSW jumper and maybe even a wing spot for Australia. The selectors in both camps need a selection intervention.