The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys were tested but rebounded in champion fashion to exact revenge on the Parramatta Eels with a hard-fought 32-16 win at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
In front of a season-high 19,308 fans, the Cowboys let a 14-0 half-time lead slip to a 14-16 deficit midway through the second half, but regrouped to storm home for their fourth-straight win.
The Eels defeated the Cowboys in round two match in Sydney.
North Queensland remain undefeated at home in 2016.
Coming up against the NRL’s second-best defensive team after seven rounds, the Cowboys knew they were in a contest early.
Having conceded just 75 points in seven games, the Eels use great defensive line speed to put extreme pressure on their opposition.
That was in evidence early as Jake Granville was forced into an error – from a ferocious tackle – which led to a sustained period of Eels attack.
Time and again, the rampaging Eels threatened to score – and they actually crossed the line at one point before it was overruled from the bunker for obstruction – only to be repelled by quality goalline defence.
After Kieran Foran’s try was overruled, the Cowboys immediately went on the attack and found dividends straight away.
On the back of some strong forward play, Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston scythed through the defence close to the line, then found back-rower Gavin Cooper with a perfectly timed inside ball to send the large crowd into rapture and the Cowboys ahead 6-0.
In the 24th minute, Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan sent fullback Lachlan Coote over for a classic support-play try.
Morgan stepped off his right foot to find a flying Coote for the Cowboys’ second try.
Moments earlier, Morgan dropped a pass from Coote. Now that’s making amends!
He would score the final two tries of the match with a sublime dummy showcasing his class, followed by a freakish effort from a Kyle Feldt kick.
Despite taking a 12-0 lead into the half-time break, the Cowboys were well and truly in a contest.
With both teams completing at around 80%, plenty of questions were asked of each other; a match befitting two top-four teams.
With ill discipline cruelling the Eels on the stroke of half time, Thurston stepped up to nail a 36m penalty and give the home side a handy 14-0 lead.
After brilliantly forcing an error on a kick from Johnathan Thurston, the man who made the error – man mountain winger Semi Radradra swooped on a Michael Morgan error early in the set and raced away for a long-range try to put the visitors well back in the frame.
Radradra would score his second try at the 56-minute mark on the end of a Corey Norman grubber kick as the Eels stormed back into the match.
Still holding a 14-10 lead, things continued to go pear-shaped for the home side as, in the 60th minute, Thurston threw a poor pass that Eels flyer Michael Jennings intercepted to run 80m and level the scores.
Michael Gordon piloted the conversion over and the Parramatta team led 16-14.
In the 68th-minute, Eels five-eighth Corey Norman was sinbinned for a professional foul as Michael Morgan tried to ground a Lachlan Coote grubber kick.
The Cowboys needed no second invitation as a superb Johnathan Thurston pass put strong finisher Antonio Winterstein over for what was the match-sealer.
On Friday, Winterstein inked a new deal, which will see him remain at the club until 2018.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 32 (Michael Morgan 2, Gavin Cooper, Lachlan Coote, Antonio Winterstein tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals, 2 pen. goals) def PARRAMATTA EELS 16 (Semi Radradra 2, Michael Jennings tries; Kieran Foran 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 19,308.