The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have heralded the return of inspirational club talisman Johnathan Thurston with an emphatic 32-6 win over the Parramatta Eels in Darwin tonight.
Out of club colours for over two months with successive calf and shoulder injuries, Thurston was at his classy best scoring a try, laying on three others and generally dominating proceedings after being a late inclusion in the match.
In front of a raucous 11,000-plus crowd, the Cowboys looked sharp from the outset with strong running from their forwards establishing early dominance.
The Eels though, created the first half-chance with a raid down the middle involving new half Mitchell Moses.
That was snuffed out by last-line-of-defence specialist Lachlan Coote and the Cowboys were quick to turn the tables after surviving the early scare.
Once back down the safe end, the Cowboys needed no second invitation after a surge down the left edge was followed up with the first try of the night at the seventh minute mark.
With Thurston pulling the strings in attack via a pinpoint crossfield kick, aerial specialist Kyle Feldt did the rest, crossing for his fourth try in four games to give the away side the first salvo in this Round 14 Top End tussle.
The Eels did look threatening whenever they made a foray into enemy territory, but on more than one occasion they were turned away by desperate defence or were masters of their own undoing courtesy of an untimely error.
Thurston extended the lead to 8-0 on 29 minutes with a penalty and four minutes later it was history repeating, if a little further wide.
Following strong yardage, the Cowboys maestro against released a perfect kick for Feldt, who finished with class to extend the Cowboys’ advantage to 12-0.
That try followed a confusing incident which resulted in the Cowboys awarded a penalty following a brouhaha involving young forward Coen Hess.
Hess hit Eels five-eighth Mitch Moses with a heavy shot during a fifth-tackle kick, with the Parramatta players reacted angrily, hence giving away the penalty.
Thurston would kick a second penalty on half time to give the visitors a 14-0 buffer heading into the break.
But the veteran playmaker wasn’t done yet, coming out of the break to slice through the line in the 45th minute and score himself, then putting boom young forward Coen Hess over eight minutes later.
The Cowboys would then cross for a fifth – rock-solid winger Antonio Winterstein – in the 61st minute to end the match as a contest.
Eels centre Brad Takairangi would score a late consolation try while another potential four-pointer was disallowed to underscore how the home side did not throw in the towel despite being dominated on the scoreboard.
The Cowboys are now eight wins from 13 matches and turn their attention to a red-hot Melbourne Storm outfit in the Victorian capital, that match to be played without both sides’ State of Origin personnel.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 32 (Kyle Feldt 2, Johnathan Thurston, Coen Hess, Antonio Winterstein tries; Thurston 4 goals, 2 pen. goals) def PARRAMATTA EELS 6 (Brad Takairangi try; Mitch Moses goal) at TIO Stadium, Darwin. Crowd: 11,968.