Cowboys in stunning comeback over Eels
North Queensland, the comeback kings, have stretched their win streak to 10 in a row, pulling off an unbelievable comeback from 30-6 down to seal a 36-30 win over Parramatta in front of a bewildered Pirtek Stadium crowd.
A seven-minute hat-trick from back-rower Gavin Cooper in the second half blew the game open with the Cowboys previously looking dead and buried when the Eels took a penalty goal in the 52nd minute to stretch their lead to 24.
Typically, halfback Johnathan Thurston was in everything during the comeback; a series of pinpoint kicks terrorising the Eels. He also kicked six goals from as many attempts, many tough efforts from the sideline.
Fullback Lachlan Coote was also immense in the second half, finishing with 216 metres and two try assists.
The Eels exploded out of the blocks to start the game, full of running and tearing holes in the Cowboys' right edge in particular as Manu Ma'u, Brad Takairangi and Semi Radradra capitalised on several pieces of Corey Norman brilliance.
Ma'u hit the ball up with as much intensity as he ever has, and Radradra – switching between centre and wing with Takairangi – was instrumental.
It started to fall apart for the visitors in the third minute when Norman finished off a long-range movement that started when Ma'u put Radradra through a gap.
A penalty made it 8-0 before Takairangi added his name to the score sheet after a Will Hopoate line break.
The visitors finally got on the board just inside half an hour against the run of play when an Eels error and penalty handed them their first real attacking set, Michael Morgan easily stepping through Ma'u and David Gower at the line.
But the Eels hit back when Ma'u exploded onto a Norman short ball and stretched their lead to 24-6 on the stroke of halftime when a Reece Robinson cut-out sent Radradra over.
A scarcely believable length-of-the-field Eels try was started and finished by Radradra shortly after the break to seemingly put the result beyond doubt at 28-6, and the Eels added a penalty goal to make it 30-6 shortly after.
From that point the Eels switched off and the Cowboys on; a Radradra knock on from a 20-metre restart handed Matthew Wright a simple try against the run of play to get the ball rolling before Coote, Thurston and Cooper got to work to blow the game wide open.
Cooper first swooped on a pinpoint Thurston grubber to make it 30-18 at the 60-minute mark, with enough time left for the Eels to get a little nervous.
Then the Eels failed to even get hands on the ball in a stunning four-minute burst that yielded three converted tries to the visitors.
A carbon copy of Thurston's grubber for Cooper made it 30-24, then the scores were levelled when the back-rower earned his hat-trick, cleaning up the scraps from a Thurston bomb.
With Coote lighting up and making metres at will, yet another line break from the in-form fullback was kicked ahead and when Linnett patiently collected the ball for a try the Cowboys amazingly had the lead.
With 10 minutes remaining it seemed like the Cowboys could go on to score anything, but a missed Michael Morgan field goal attempt was as close as either side got to points in a frantic final stanza as the Cowboys completed the third-biggest comeback of all time.
North Queensland Cowboys 36 (Gavin Cooper 3, Michael Morgan, Matthew Wright, Kane Linnett tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 30 (Semi Radradra 2, Corey Norman, Brad Takairangi, Manu Ma'u tries; Chris Sandow 5 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Half-time: 24-6 Eels.