An enigmatic North Queensland Cowboys put on an attacking masterclass to bury the hapless Parramatta Eels 42-14 on Saturday night.
The ANZAC tribute round has already treated rugby league fans to four of the most compelling games of the season, and the fifth was no exception – just for a different reason.
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In perfect conditions for a high-scoring contest, the Cowboys got the ball rolling just five minutes in with one of the weirdest one-two plays you will see.
Stuck flatfooted and out of options on the fifth tackle, Johnathan Thurston decided to switch the play with a pass to Michael Morgan, who put the ball to the boot back in the direction of his five-eighth, who beat a sluggish Tim Mannah to the loose ball to open the scoring for the hosts.
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In an opening 10 minutes owned by the home side, the Eels broke again under relentless goal-line pressure.
Brent Tate took matters into his own hands, darting left from dummy-half and creating a hole that was filled by hardened Test prop Matt Scott. When over 100kg of big man hit the line just metres out the result was a formality, and the Cowboys were in again.
Star Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne had a woeful opening half, typified by a comical fumble after the ball fell his way following a charge-down from Scott. A rout looked on the cards when the Cowboys capitalised on a dominant opening period with their third try in 11 minutes.
In more goal-line brilliance – this time off a scrum – they emptied the right side, setting up a second-man play for Thurston to link up with Brent Tate, who sent Curtis Rona sprinting to the corner for the easiest of four pointers.
Just as they looked to be coming up empty again on the goal-line, Parramatta threw caution to the wind and ran on the fifth tackle. A quick cut-out ball from Corey Norman found an overlap, with centre Will Hopoate squeezing a ball out to Ken Sio for the try.
The pendulum of momentum had swung when Michael Morgan roosted his restart kick way over the deadball line and minutes later, a try saver from Semi Radradra denied an early double to young Rona.
Off the back of solid roll-forward, the Eels structured a cute deep-shallow play for second rower Pauli Pauli to muscle his way over on the left. A penalty goal in the dying seconds of half time brought the visitors all the way back within a single score.
Hayne's fortunes looked to be changing in the second term, with the Eels talisman busting out of the changerooms and making a dangerous run from the backfield.
But that was to be as good as it got after he was cut down in a try-saving tackle from Michael Morgan.
The Cowboys fed off Morgan's defensive effort, translating that into potent attack just three minutes later.
Exposing the Eels' poor fringe defence once again, the home side went left to find centre Kane Linnett running the perfect inside-out line and crashing through the feeble attempts of Sio and Hopoate for the first points of the half.
It took just 10 minutes for Linnett to bag a double when he pounced on a grubber kick. With his trademark swinging delivery, Thurston's kicking masterclass continued as he slotted his fifth conversion from five attempts.
The rout was on when Rona eventually earned his double off a perfectly placed Ray Thompson grubber kick.
The Cowboys officially hit party mode when Morgan self-assisted the next try, chipping an elevated grubber straight through the Eels' right side defence and collapsing on the Steeden untouched for the game's final points.
North Queensland Cowboys 42 (Rona 2, Linnett 2, Thurston, Scott, Morgan tries; Thurston 7 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 14 (Sio, Pauli tries; Sandow 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium.