The serious early-season injuries continued as Eels hooker Nathan Peats suffered a nasty arm injury to sour what was otherwise an impressive 20-16 win by Parramatta over premiers North Queensland.
Kieran Foran's belated club debut was followed by a fairly quiet performance by the star recruit but halves partner Corey Norman was again immense while powerful efforts from the forward pack – and particularly the bench – laid the platform.
An arm injury to Peats – one of his side's best for the second week running – could be a huge blow to Brad Arthur's plans but he has options in the shape of Kaysa Pritchard and Isaac De Gois. The No.9 later Tweeted the injury was a dislocation rather than a break.
Thanks for all the tweets. Dislocated elbow was the injury. Was painful until it got popped back in. I should be ok, could have been worse— Nathan Peats (@peats05) March 12, 2016
The Cowboys will be left ruing a shocking first-half error rate and some poor discipline without the ball that left them on the wrong end of a 9-4 penalty count.
The Eels dominated the first half in terms of possession, holding 55 per cent of the ball in the opening 40 on the back of a shocking error and penalty rate against the visitors, to take a 14-6 lead to the sheds.
The Cowboys conceded six penalties to two and completed just nine of 16 sets but it was only a fortuitous penalty a minute out from half-time that allowed the Eels to go to the break with a better than two-point advantage.
A couple of those penalties early convinced the home side to take a 2-0 lead courtesy of a Michael Gordon penalty before the premiers hit the lead when Thurston's deft flat pass to impressive right edge back-rower Ethan Lowe saw the Round 1 match-winner barge through several defenders to plant the ball down next to the posts.
Given a mountain of possession as the clumsy Cowboys repeatedly turned the ball over, the Eels regained the lead in the 21st minute when Peats burrowed over from dummy half.
The Cowboys continued to be their own worst enemies and would have been relieved to be down just two at the break but a fortuitous call to the home team proved decisive.
Winger Semi Radradra set off to chase a Corey Norman bomb and ran into the shoulder of opposite flanker Kyle Feldt. The officials ruled Feldt had taken his man off the ball and ruled a penalty at the Cowboys' line despite Thurston's protests Feldt had not changed his line.
Impressive bench forward Kenny Edwards showed incredible strength and determination to bash his way through for a solo try next to the posts.
The Cowboys that came out of the sheds were unrecognisable and started the second stanza with huge intensity, hard running and plenty of intent. The home side struggled to hold them back and cracked in the 49th minute when Justin O'Neill crossed out on the right edge.
When Matt Scott joined Manu Ma'u on report – both for crusher tackles – the Eels extended their lead to 16-10 in the 55th.
They clawed their way back into the arm wrestle as the Cowboys continued to get offside of the men with the whistles.
A monstrous touch-finder from Norman after James Tamou was penalised for a high shot on Semi Radradra set the Eels on the attack again and a nice short ball from big man Junior Paulo helped Brad Takairangi to a try out wide and a 20-10 advantage with just over 15 minutes to play.
In a situation where the 2015 Eels would probably have found a way to lose the 2016 version muscled up in defence and hemmed the visitors inside their own 20-metre line set after set. They continued to get help from the Cowboys' handling errors but cracked in the final minute when Jason Taumalolo barged over following a spilled bomb by Clint Gutherson.
A frantic final 30 seconds saw the Cowboys throw it around madly but the Eels scrambled in defence to hang on to a 20-16 win.
Parramatta Eels 20 (Peats, Edwards, Takairangi tries; Gordon 4 goals) def North Queensland Cowboys 16 (Lowe, O'Neill, Taumalolo tries; Thurston 2 goals). Half time: Parramatta 14-6. Crowd: 12,194. On report: Manu Ma'u, Matt Scott.