The Eels will have the chance to end their 36-year premiership drought next Sunday, after a 24-20 victory over the Cowboys in Friday night’s Preliminary Final confirmed their spot in the Grand Final for the first time since 2009.
Back-rower Shaun Lane and winger Maika Sivo were Parramatta’s heroes in the dying stages, both coming up with a series of clutch plays on either side of the ball, to help their side comeback from 20-12 with 25 minutes to play.
Front-rower Reagan Campbell-Gillard scored a try either side of half-time, in a game where the sides couldn't be split across the opening 40 minutes, despite the Eels completing just 61 percent of their sets in a half which saw them make eight errors to North Queensland's three.
Parramatta's back-rowers Isaiah Papali'i and Shaun Lane both left the field for head injury assessments in the first half, which they passed, while Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo spent 10 minutes in the bin for the should charge which resulted in Papali'i's HIA.
Lane sends Sivo over
While the Cowboys dominated the opening minutes, including a first set which saw them travel 95 metres down field, it was the Eels who struck first after a no-look pass from Mitchell Moses in the face of intense defensive pressure led to Will Penisini scoring.
The reply was swift and compelling from Reuben Cotter, who powered over Clinton Gutherson to get his side on the board, although seven minutes later the Cowboys cracked under the pressure of playing a man down and Reagan Campbell-Gillard strolled over.
Leilua forces his way over
Minutes after he saved a try with a tackle in the corner, Waqa Blake spilled a bomb which led to the Cowboys scoring on the next set through Luciano Leilua, and while Valentine Holmes missed the conversion, his penalty just before half-time ensured scores were tied 12-12 at the break.
Back-to-back infringements from the Eels gifted the Cowboys a penalty to take the lead 10 minutes into the second half, and a short time later clean hands from Scott Drinkwater and Holmes put Murray Taulagi over in the corner.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard's second four-pointer, and another Moses conversion pulled the Eels back to within two points with 20 minutes to play, and they should have drawn even minutes later when Moses pushed a penalty attempt wide.
But it didn't matter in the end. Sivo's try off a brilliant pass from Lane gave the Eels the lead with 15 to play, and from there Parramatta defended their line with everything they had, denying Kyle Feldt a try in the corner and surviving a final set from the Cowboys deep inside attacking territory.
Match: Cowboys v Eels
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
- The Eels are through to their first decider since 2009.
- Under heavy pressure, a no-look pass from Mitchell Moses found its way to the right edge and from there Will Penisini found the line for the opening try.
- A spirited carry from Reuben Cotter saw him explode through a gap and run over Clinton Gutherson five minutes later.
- With scores locked at 6-6, Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo was sent to the sin bin for a tackle in which his shoulder make contact with the head of Isaiah Papali'i and resulted in the Eels' forward leaving the field for a HIA, which he later passed.
- After Peta Hiku was penalised for a tackle off the ball, Parramatta made the home side pay with a try through Reagan Campbell-Gillard, which after Moses kicked his second conversion put the Eels up 12-6.
- Waqa Blake was all that stood between the Cowboys and a second try, with the winger sliding across to shove Murray Taulagi into touch just short of the try-line.
- A dropped bomb by Blake gifted North Queensland with field position in the lead up to Luciano Leilua powering over out wide, but they remained behind after Valentine Holmes pushed his conversion wide.
Taumalolo sent to the bin
- Inside the last 10 minutes of the half Mitchell Moses put his side under pressure with back-to-back kicks out on the full.
- Parramatta lost their captain's challenge two minutes from half-time after Junior Paulo was ruled to have made a second effort on a Griffin Neame lost ball, and on the ensuing penalty Holmes drilled it over from 40 metres out to tie scores at 12-all at the break.
- Holmes kicked a penalty to put his side in front early in the second half, and minutes later the hosts led by eight after a Murray Taulagi try and a sideline conversion from Holmes.
- The Cowboys successfully challenged an on-field ruling of a knock on from Holmes with 23 minutes to go, but an error on the next set gave the Eels the ball and a few tackles later Campbell-Gillard went over for his second.
- After Kyle Feldt was penalised for a high shot, Moses missed a shot to tie scores, but on the very next set a sublime pass from Shaun Lane sent Maika Sivo over for the go-ahead try.
- Sivo then turned try-saver, arriving late to put just enough pressure on Feldt to make the Cowboy put his foot on the sideline in the lead up to a would-be try.
- The Eels completed at just 61 percent through the first half but were much improved in the second to finish the game with a 77 percent completion rate.
- Sivo has now scored five tries and provided a try assist in 184 minutes of game time against the Cowboys in his NRL career; he’s been directly involved in 15 tries in his last 11 matches overall (11 tries, 4 try assists).
Lane sends Sivo over
Play of the Game
A crucial try-saver which kept Parramatta right in the contest. The Cowboys looked for all money to have another try, but for the determined effort of the Eels' skipper.
Gutherson stops a certain try
What They Said
“Really happy for the boys, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices along the way. Mitchell Moses made a massive sacrifice for his team-mates today, he didn’t get to see the birth of his daughter, that’s huge, it shows you what it means. You could see the last 10 minutes how we defended and kept turning up for each other, the boys really wanted it. We’ve got a lot of players that are leaving to go to other clubs but they’ve been a big part of what we’ve done and our boys want to make sure they cherish every last day they’ve got with each other.” - Eels coach Brad Arthur
Eels: Finals Week 3
"Yeah absolutely [a missed opportunity]. To be 12-all at half-time, after having Jase (Taumalolo) in the bin for 10 minutes, I thought that was a really good effort. I thought we stayed composed, started the second half strong, but in the end Parramatta played finals footy for [longer]. The way they managed the second half was much better than ours, I don’t think they made an error and the way they scrambled and defended their line, that’s the difference between a win and a loss." - Cowboys coach Todd Payten
Cowboys: Finals Week 3
The Eels get a chance to end their premiership drought in next Sunday's grand final against either the Panthers or Rabbitohs. The Cowboys will sit back and reflect on a remarkable season that saw them climb from 15th to second and get within one win of a grand final.