Eels v Cowboys: Five key points
The Cowboys are a win away from an unlikely spot in the grand final after Paul Green's men once again proved the doubters wrong with a methodical 24-16 win over the Eels in front of a partisan Parramatta crowd at ANZ Stadium.
Cowboys are a genuine premiership threat
Their season was meant to have ended the moment it was announced that Johnathan Thurston would not play again in 2017. We've heard it so many times that we've convinced ourselves that it must be true. When the Cowboys snuck into the finals thanks to the Bulldogs downing the Dragons, everyone assumed that they'd overachieved and would be sent packing by the defending premiers. Wrong. On Saturday, the Eels were meant to steamroll them after pushing the Storm all the way last week. Not for the first time, everyone was wrong.
The word "brave" has been thrown around a lot when describing the Cowboys in 2017, but maybe we're being unfair. Michael Morgan is playing as well as any half in the competition, Jason Taumalolo is the best forward on the planet, Ethan Lowe played out of his skin on Saturday while Kyle Feldt showed why he is regarded as one of the best finishers in the game. They hardly made any errors, conceded very few penalties and rolled down the field with relative ease.
They'll start outsiders against the Roosters next week but tip against them at your own peril. And if you want to start looking into the future, a replay of the 2015 grand final looms if the Cowboys and Broncos can pull off upsets.
John Asiata ends the drought
It was a moment four years in the making and it couldn't have come at a better time. With his side trailing by four points, Cowboys prop John Asiata did what forwards are not supposed to do when he rose high for a bomb that had been allowed to bounce and then pulled off a stunning one-on-one strip to dispossess Eels fullback Will Smith to score. The play itself was huge; what made it unforgettable was the fact it was his first try in the NRL since making is debut back in 2014. It might have taken 76 games for him to break the drought, but given the result, it was well worth the wait.
Semi goes full beast mode
Is there a better sight in rugby league than Semi Radradra in full flight? The Eels winger has given us some unforgettable highlights over the years and the flying Fijian didn't disappoint in his first finals match as he scorched the Cowboys for his 24th try in 27 games at ANZ Stadium. What appeared to be a tricky cross-field kick by Te Maire Martin was made to look easy by Radradra who flew above the pack to claim the Steeden in style before he steadied himself and eyed off the prize at the other end of the field. Radradra made light work of the first would-be defender with a solid fend, sprinted past a desperate Scott Bolton near halfway and then showed enough pace to evade Michael Morgan to score one of the most memorable tries you're likely to see this finals series. With Semi set to switch codes effective immediately, hopefully it wasn't his final highlight in rugby league.
Cowboys happy to chance their foot
The Cowboys showed their hand early when Michael Morgan put in a cross-field kick from his own 20-metre line that may have resulted in a try had the ball sat up for his winger, Kyle Feldt. Instead, the Steeden bounced into touch. It was the story of their first half. Every time they got into an attacking position, North Queensland's playmakers found themselves kick-happy; much to their own detriment. While they were able to force an early repeat set, several of their first-half kicks were pounced upon by Parramatta players, with two of them resulting in long-range tries after Will Smith joined Radradra on the scorers list when he blocked a Michael Morgan grubber and raced away to make it 12-6.
While their first-half options were poor, the Cowboys kicked their opposition into submission after the break with Morgan repeatedly pinning the Eels in the corners with metronomic ease.
Eels fail to read the signs
Bon Jovi tried to warn the Eels at the break that the job was only half done. Leading by four points with 40 minutes remaining, the blue and gold army was in full voice as they rocked out to the classic tune Living on a Prayer as part of the NRL's half-time karaoke entertainment. Instead of watching their side march on to a first preliminary final since 2009, Parramatta fans could only sit there in horror as the Cowboys produced a trademark second-half comeback to continue their fairytale season. The flair and aggression that has carried the Eels all season was nowhere to be seen as they came up with silly errors, missed crucial tackles and were simply out-enthused by their Queensland rivals. There were a lot of positives for Parramatta on and off the field in 2017, but they'll look at this result as a missed opportunity.