A second-half double to centre Kane Linnett helped the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys to a 42-14 win against Parramatta at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
In the first of three straight home matches, the Cowboys led 18-0 early before the Eels closed the gap to 18-14 by half time.
It was almost all Cowboys in the second half as they secured their third win of the year, all in Townsville, in front of just over 13,000 members and fans.
Rookie winger Curtis Rona collected his first career double in the seven tries to two victory, while co-captain Johnathan Thurston was brilliant in attack in his first game as a 31-year-old.
Gavin Cooper was withdrawn from the Cowboys lineup due to knee soreness, giving Joel Riethmuller his chance in the starting pack. Ethan Lowe was 18th man for NQ. Mitch Allwood (concussion) was rested by the Eels with Taniela Lasala earning a bench spot. David Gower started in the back-row instead of Pauli Pauli.
The Cowboys scored at almost a point a minute in the opening 20 minutes to shoot to an 18-0 lead before seeing almost all of that advantage disappear by half time.
Ex-Cowboy Willie Tonga handed his old team their first real chance at points, coughing up possession near halfway and NQ took advantage with Michael Morgan’s grubber-kick rebounding to Johnathan Thurston, who snared his fourth try of the year. The final verdict came from the video referees’ box who confirmed the “try” call from on the field.
Brent Tate threw the final pass for the Cowboys’ next two tries – a sixth-tackle short ball to Matt Scott who crashed over near the posts and the last pass of an attacking raid to the right that was finished off by Curtis Rona for his second try in two NRL matches.
The Eels’ first response came on the 25-minute mark via winger Ken Rio, but they could again have fallen 18 behind had Rona managed to plant the ball successfully in the corner to complete his double.
After being ruled a try by referee Ben Cummins, the four-pointer was overturned by the video refs who discovered the winger lost control as he was about to touch down.
The severity of that near-miss was magnified not long after when Pauli Pauli rumbled over for Parramatta’s second in the 33rd minute and Chris Sandow booted a penalty goal on half time to reduce the margin to 18-14.
Test prop James Tamou rumbled to 98 metres in 10 hit-ups in his opening stint, setting the perfect platform for his team’s early charge.
It looked like the Cowboys’ lead could be gone completely when the elusive Hayne went through the centre of the Cowboys defence in Parra’s first set of the second 40.
Michael Morgan was there to stop the Eels’ No.1 around 20 metres out and their next two tackles came to nothing.
Eventually, the Cowboys managed to strike first in the second half thanks to the combination of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan sending Kane Linnett in for his first four-pointer of the year in his return game from a back injury.
A great offload from Linnett as he was about to be thrown over the sideline almost created a try for Morgan not long after, the fullback losing control over the tryline.
Parramatta had their own near-miss when Chris Sandow’s possible try was overturned upstairs with 25 left and it turned into a 12-point turnaround in just a couple of minutes thanks to a JT grubber that provided Linnett with his second.
Thurston’s fifth conversion from five attempts gave NQ a 30-14 advantage to take into the final quarter.
Rona eventually had his double thanks to a well-placed Ray Thompson grubber and Michael Morgan touched down his own kick ahead to take the Cowboys to 40.
JT finished the night with seven from seven for a personal tally of 18 points – and most probably another three Dally M Medal votes as man of the match.
Tamou’s metres-gained tally finished on a game-high 177, followed by Jason Taumalolo on 147m, while Rory Kostjasyn topped the tackle count on 35.
COWBOYS: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Matthew Wright, 3 Brent Tate, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Curtis Rona, 6 Johnathan Thurston (c), 7 Ray Thompson, 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 James Tamou, 15 Joel Riethmuller, 12 Jason Taumalolo, 13 Tariq Sims. Interchange: 14 Anthony Mitchell, 16 Ashton Sims, 17 Scott Bolton, 18 Glenn Hall.
EELS: 1 Jarryd Hayne (c), 2 Semi Radradra, 3 Will Hopoate, 4 Willie Tonga, 5 Ken Sio, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Chris Sandow, 8 Tim Mannah (c), 9 Nathan Peats, 10 Fuifui Moimoi, 16 David Gower, 12 Manu Ma’u, 13 Joseph Paulo. Interchange: 11 Pauli Pauli, 14 Darcy Lussick, 17 Peni Terepo, 18Taniela Lasalo.
COWBOYS 42 (Kane Linnett 2, Curtis Rona 2, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan tries; Thurston 7 goals)
EELS 14 (Ken Sio, Pauli Pauli tries; Chris Sandow 4 goals)