Friday’s matches for round 24 concludes with a bottom-of-the-table clash between the Cowboys and the Eels. There’s minimal doubt that an overwhelming majority of people expected these two teams to feature in the finals, instead of battling to avoid the unwanted prize of the wooden spoon. However, that’s precisely the scenario that both teams find themselves in, which renders this match as a must-win game for both teams, as they scramble to avoid the spoon.
The Cowboys gave a fair account of themselves against a Sharks team, who are vying for a place in the top four. The Cows refused to let the Sharks get away from them for the bulk of the match as they twice drew level and were only 18-16 down with five minutes remaining. Unfortunately, a sin binning to forward John Asiata proved crucial, as the Sharks scored two tries to inflate the final scoreline to 28-16.
The Eels went down to the Storm 20-4 in Melbourne. Whilst the final scoreline suggests that the Blue and Golds were far from disgraced, the fact remains they had their chances to shake the Storm, who suffered injuries to key players (most notably Cameron Smith). Moreover, they had the advantage of an additional man advantage, when the Storm had Cameron Munster in the sin bin. However, a lack of patience and composure ensured the Eels failed to score until close to full time, through Clint Gutherson.
As well as both teams needing a win to move away from the wooden spoon, there is a strong sense of sentimentality about this match, with the legendary Johnathan Thurston playing his final home game. This will give the Cowboys even greater motivation to send their stalwart captain as a winner in his final outing in front of his adoring fans. As well as JT’s farewell, there are other milestones for the Cows to celebrate. Co-captain Matt Scott and hooker Jake Granville will be celebrating their 250th and 100th matches, respectively.
For the Eels, they will be looking to spoil the party, as they focus on avoiding the wooden spoon. In addition, the Eels were eliminated by the Cowboys in last year’s semifinals. They have an opportunity to avenge that elimination by doing the double on the Cowboys, by doing the double on them this season, having already defeated them this season.
2018 - Round 14 - Parramatta Eels 20 def. North Queensland Cowboys 14 at TIO Stadium
2017 - Semifinal - North Queensland Cowboys 24 def. Parramatta Eels 16 at ANZ Stadium
2017 - Round 14 - North Queensland Cowboys 32 def. Parramatta Eels 6 at TIO Stadium
2017 - Round 9 - Parramatta Eels 26 def. North Queensland Cowboys 6 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2016 - Round 8 - North Queensland Cowboys 32 def. Parramatta Eels 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium
The overall record between the two sides is evenly split, with the Eels winning 20 out of 39 matches, while the Cowboys won 18 of these encounters, followed by a draw in 2001. The Eels dominated their early encounters with the Cowboys (pre-2002), winning all but three matches against them. However, in the periods of 2002-2008 and from 2011 onwards, the Cows had put together a consistent run of victories against the Eels, as they sought to square the ledger.
Two factors that will give the Eels some much-needed confidence are that they won their most recent match against the Cowboys in Darwin this year, and they walked away with the competition points in their visit to Townsville last year. However, there are also two matches against the Cowboys which still haunt Eels supporters to this day. They are the preliminary final in 2005, when they were unexpectedly trounced 29-0, in what was a total capitulation by them, as well as last year’s semifinal, where they were outsmarted 24-16 by the Cowboys, who were missing the great Johnathan Thurston.
|North Queensland Cowboys||Parramatta Eels|
|1||Te Maire Martin||Corey Norman|
|2||Kyle Feldt||Jarryd Hayne|
|3||Justin O’Neill||Michael Jennings|
|4||Kane Linnett||Clint Gutherson|
|5||Gideon Gela-Mosby||George Jennings|
|6||Jake Clifford||Jaeman Salmon|
|7||Johnathan Thurston||Mitchell Moses|
|8||Matt Scott||Kane Evans|
|9||Jake Granville||Reed Mahoney|
|10||Jordan McLean||Siosaia Vave|
|11||Gavin Cooper||Marata Niukore|
|12||Coen Hess||Tepai Moeroa|
|13||Jason Taumalolo||Peni Terepo|
|14||Ben Hampton||Cameron King|
|15||John Asiata||Tim Mannah|
|16||Francis Molo||David Gower|
|17||Scott Bolton||Brad Takairangi|
|18||Ethan Lowe||Ray Stone|
|19||Javid Bowen||Oregon Kaufusi|
|20||Shaun Fensom||Josh Hoffman|
|21||Corey Jensen||Bevan French|
The facts that matter
As stated earlier, the Cowboys took it to the Sharks, who are currently chasing a top four spot, and could have easily found themselves there if they won by at least 30 points. But the Cows’ persistence ensured that it wouldn’t happen, as they drew level with the Sharks twice, and scored again to keep the game poised at 18-16. Unfortunately, ill-discipline proved costly for the Cowboys, as John Asiata was given his marching orders in the 75th minute for a professional foul. That was vital, as the Sharks scored two further tries, to ensure the final margin finished at 28-16. In addition, a higher error and missed tackle count proved the Cowboys’ undoing. The absence of Jason Taumalolo was telling, as they were dominated in the forwards, and in the meterage department.
The Cowboys are ranked first in terms of possession, with 52%. For all the talk regarding his decline, Johnathan Thurston is ranked first for engaging the opponent’s line (115), and try assists and line break assists (18 and 20, respectively). In addition, Jason Taumalolo may not be at his astronomical 2017 levels, however he is still highly dangerous and leads the way in post contact metres (1575). Yet for all the aforementioned statistics, the Cowboys have struggled in attack all season, as they have scored the fourth fewest points this season (375). They have committed the third most errors this season (239). However, they have shown signs of improvement over the last month in that regard.
The home form of the Cowboys this season has been very poor, having won only four matches, whilst losing the other seven. Despite their struggles at home this season, the Cows have won their two most recent matches at home against the Knights and Broncos, both of which were dramatic victories. This meant that they have found form at home, having arrested a five-match losing streak at home. As such, they will have plenty of confidence going into this match, especially with the incredible emotion which they will be riding, as they endeavour to send their retiring skipper out on the right note in front of what is likely to be a bumper home crowd.
Before last week, the Eels had found some form by defeating the Bulldogs, Titans and Dragons, while pushing the Rabbitohs before eventually going down. However, they failed to capitalise on their recent good form by failing to take advantage of the Storm who were decimated during the match due to key injuries to Cameron Smith and other players. The Eels were unable to make their numerical advantage count when the Storm had Cameron Munster in the sin bin. They could not breach the Storm try line until the 76th minute as they eventually went down 20-4. Coach Brad Arthur lamented the lack of patience by his side at vital times in the match.
Despite their lowly position on the ladder, the Eels have a completion rate of 78%, to be ranked 5th in the NRL. It makes us wonder how they would have fared if their completion rate was poor. In addition, the Eels have made 7732 tackles this season, which shows that their try line has been under siege for large parts of the season. The Eels’ attack is a cause for concern, as they are ranked 15th in overall points scored, with only 358 for the season. Jarryd Hayne has showed the form that saw him win the 2009 and 2014 Dally-M medals, however. Thus, for all the criticism 'the Hayne plane' has endured over the last few years, he is to be written off at one’s own peril.
The Eels’ form away from home in 2018 is nothing short of atrocious, having lost all ten of their away matches. With this match being their final match on the road for 2018, they have an opportunity to avoid being winless on the road, given they are against a team who have struggled badly at home this season. A few things that should give the Blue and Golds some much-needed confidence going into this game are that they have had a decent run of form of late, as well as having come out on top in their last visit to Townsville.
There is minimal doubt that both teams will be feeling immense pain at finding themselves placed as low as they are on the ladder. There is no way that anyone expected either team to be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon, least of all the players from either team. We can expect an abundance of fireworks in this match, as players from both sides tear shreds off each other, while leaving no stone unturned.
In what has been an abysmal season for the Cowboys, they can finish the year on a high with a win in their final home game. Despite having an all-round disappointing season, the Cows have found form of late, and will definitely fancy their chances against the Eels.
As well as avoiding the spoon, the other major incentive for the Cows is sending their legendary skipper out a winner in his final home appearance. JT will also be doing everything in his power to ensure that he guides his team to victory in his home swansong. They have another opportunity to inflict some late season pain on the Eels, given they eliminated them against all the odds in last year’s semifinals.
For the Eels, they have had an equally dismal campaign. However, they have also hit some decent form, apart from last week’s disappointing loss to the Storm. Despite their deplorable away record, having lost all their matches on the road, they will fancy their chances of spoiling Thurston’s home farewell, given they won their last match in Townsville.
Therefore, whilst the Eels had hit form of late and are very eager to avoid the wooden spoon, it would seem that the Cowboys have all the motivation they need to give the legendary JT a fitting farewell in his final appearance at 1300SMILES Stadium. Moreover, they will welcome back key forwards Jason Taumalolo and Matt Scott, who will also celebrate a milestone (along with Jake Granville). With JT eager to ensure his side avoid the wooden spoon and see out his career on a positive note, this and the buzz of a packed crowd should be sufficient in seeing the Cows over the line.
Cowboys by 6.