Eels v Cowboys: Five key points
The Eels chalked up their first win of 2016 with an energetic effort against the defending premiers on the back of some bruising defence and just enough in attack to seal the deal. Here are five talking points from their 20-16 upset win.
Quiet Foran brushes hammy complaint
Kieran Foran's first NRL game in blue and gold was a successful one but the man himself – despite some good moments – didn't exactly impose himself on the game. Rather Corey Norman looked to be running the show for Parramatta, taking all the long kicks and most of the short ones although they had similar figures in terms of ball-running and defence.
The lack of kicking may suggest Foran's troublesome hamstring isn't yet 100 per cent but the Kiwi Test pivot insisted it hadn't hampered him.
"It's not too bad. I'm just monitoring my loads at the moment and just trying to get through week to week. But we're pretty confident that I'll be close to 100 per cent for next week's game," Foran said.
"It wasn't too bad to be honest. I trained well yesterday for captain's run and I was pretty confident coming into this game."
Some things never change – you need to hold the ball
Regardless of which team is in form or look like the favourites on paper, so often you see the team that wins an NRL game is the one that showed more respect for the football.
The Eels completed at 72 per cent while the visitors were at just 63 per cent, with just nine of 16 completed in the first half – as well as losing the penalty count 9-4. That sort of leg-up to any opposition is always going to hurt you and Cowboys coach Paul Green said as much after the game while also lamenting poor last-tackle options.
"Our ball control was the biggest problem; we just weren't able to build any sort of pressure," Green said.
"That first half our last plays weren't anywhere near good enough either.
"We didn't build enough pressure through those two parts of our game. I thought we defended well, I thought we handled their shifts pretty well tackled well."
Green blamed poor concentration for the lacklustre ball control.
"That part of our game disappoints me because that's been one of our strengths and tonight it wasn't there. Probably a little bit of application, a little bit of concentration."
Eels cause bruises in defence
Last year the Eels were guilty of falling away late in games. That looks to be very much last year's problem though. After sticking in the fight despite key players being injured last week, the Eels raised the bar in intensity late in Saturday night's contest needing to hold on to what was then a 20-10 lead.
A monstrous set in defence with around five minutes to go was ruined somewhat by an ill-disciplined penalty but had Brad Takairangi's face rub not drawn the referees' ire the Cowboys would have been forced to kick from roughly their own 20-metre line, and it wasn't the only time Parramatta made a statement without the ball.
North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott agreed, saying the Eels' in-your-face defence had also put his side off.
"Their rushing defence, we got spooked a couple of times and came up with simple errors."
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur praised the efforts in defence and said the attack will follow as combinations start to gel.
"I think we were pretty positive in defence and got off our line pretty hard and maybe we contributed a little bit to forcing a few errors," Arthur said.
"It was nice to win a game on the back of defence and playing tough. And we played tough."
Cowboys fail to handle turning point
For all the Eels' possession in the first half (all 55 per cent of it) it looked like they'd have just a slender 8-6 lead to show for it at half-time.
Instead a controversial penalty put the Eels in range and while Green was unhappy with the call, he was less happy with how his side responded.
With just over a minute remaining until the break, the Eels put in a kick, winger Semi Radradra gave chase, made contact with the shoulder of opposite Kyle Feldt and hit the turf. The referees said Feldt obstructed the chaser while Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston shared in-game caller Andrew Voss's view that Feldt had simply stood his ground.
Nevertheless the Cowboys just needed to hold for one set but couldn't keep out barnstorming Eels back-rower Kenny Edwards.
"I thought it was pretty harsh myself," Green said.
"You can argue whether it was a good or bad call, if I spent too much time doing that through the year I'd probably end up in a mental hospital but I was disappointed we weren't able to defend the set off the back of it. We defended well most of the night and it's something we want to make sure we're good at this year, defending our try line, so I was a bit disappointed in that area, particularly when it was in the game."
Cowboys rue Coote kicking woes while Eels ride home on Norman's boot
During the 80 minutes, Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote put boot to ball five times for 139 metres while the game's best halfback Johnathan Thurston did so just nine times for 232 metres.
Compare that to the Eels where every single kick came from the No.6 or No.7 and it begs the question why Thurston didn't take more of the kicks.
Asked why Coote had taken so many kicks, Green simply replied "not very well", though he did separately single out his team's last tackle options as a problem.
Meanwhile opposing coach Arthur had nothing but praise for the efforts of five-eighth Corey Norman with the boot after the in-form playmaker racked up 534 metres from 15 kicks and put in some huge touchfinders after penalties.
"I thought Normy's kicking game was outstanding, our kick finishes was good and we managed the game a little bit better. Still at times we can be better at it, but we managed it pretty well," Arthur said.