The Parramatta Eels have kept their unbeaten home record intact with a frantic and an at-times ugly win over the Cowboys at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
The match saw an amazing finish as the Cowboys earned one final chance to overturn the Eels, with some bizarre play as Parramatta threatened to self-combust.
Holding on to an 18-10 lead, the Eels made a number of silly errors to eventually get the Cowboys back to 18-16 with around one minute to play.
Halfback Chris Sandow took a risky option with a short kick-off that he regathered, before spreading it wide where Origin hopeful Will Hopoate spilled it to give the Cowboys a final shot. A half break from Cowboys fullback Michael Morgan threatened to give Parramatta coach Brad Arthur heart palpitations but he dropped it amid a desperate tackle to allow the Eels to hang on.
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The Eels were by far the better side in the first half before doing their best to keep the Cowboys in it in a scrappy second term, with in-form fullback Jarryd Hayne arguably the difference - although Johnathan Thurston could well have been the man of the match had the Cowboys pulled it out of the fire.
An error-free opening to the match saw one try butchered by the Eels when Corey Norman found himself in space but failed to pass to Tim Mannah backing up, denying his skipper a rare try, but it mattered little soon after as a quick double strike put the Cowboys on the back foot.
With the Cowboys being forced to drop out following the Norman break, an inside ball from Joseph Paulo found his namesake Junior Paulo on the burst, crashing over next to the posts.
From the restart the Eels went the length of the field as a Kenny Edwards offload found a speeding Hayne, who drew the fullback and sent try-scoring machine Semi Radradra -fresh off a four-year contract extension - on a free run to the line. Sandow hit the posts with his conversion attempt to keep it at 10-0 after just 12 minutes.
A momentum shift saw the Eels forced to absorb three repeat sets on their own line but they were eventually let off the hook by a Cowboys error – however it was the North Queenslanders who were next to score.
A late offload 15 metres from the Eels line went to a flat-footed Morgan, who accelerated through half a gap, drew Hayne and sent James Tamou over next to the posts to make it 10-6 after 22 minutes.
The Eels immediately snatched the momentum back when the kick-off wrong-footed Cowboys half Ray Thompson and shot over the dead ball line. Like the Eels before them, the Cowboys were able to absorb a few sets of pressure but again, the Eels were eventually next to score.
After several attacking raids with Hayne heavily involved, the home side finally stretched their lead just inside the final five minutes of the half when a towering, floating Hayne bomb, which seemed to hang in the atmosphere for an eternity, was eventually spilled by Morgan.
A right-side shift saw a quality Sandow cut-out ball put Ken Sio over in the corner before the halfback missed the tough conversion, leaving the Eels up 14-6 at half-time.
The Eels exploded out of the blocks after the break with points in their first set, as a Sandow short ball sent Pauli Pauli into space before he found Hayne, who engaged the afterburners to speed away from Morgan and score in the corner. Sandow again missed to keep the Cowboys within two converted tries.
The Eels looked by far the more dangerous side in a scoreless next 20 minutes but were unable to capitalise on a series of chances, with Joe Paulo held up over the line and another Norman line break failing to yield points.
The wheels then started to come off for the Eels as they offered the visitors a series of chances, which they eventually took in the 63rd minute off the back of a glut of errors and penalties given up by the home side, when a floating cut-out from Morgan put Winterstein over in the corner. Thurston missed the crucial sideline effort to keep the Eels' lead at eight points.
A series of silly errors and missed opportunities from the Eels then kept the visitors in it and they made it a grandstand finish when Morgan crossed and Thurston slotted a quick conversion from out wide before the frantic finish saw the Cowboys just fail to pull off a miracle.Parramatta Eels 18
(Junior Paulo, Radradra, Sio, Hayne tries; Sandow goal) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 16
(Tamou, Winterstein, Morgan tries; Thurston 2 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: