The Cowboys have given their legendary skipper Johnathan Thurston the farewell he deserved in his final appearance in Townsville as a player, with a resounding 44-6 victory over a disappointing Eels outfit.
The Cows set up their thumping win with a blistering opening half while remaining in cruise control in the second half. This win not only sees the Cowboys leap into 14th place but it also effectively consigns the Eels to the 2018 wooden spoon.
Of course, JT wasn’t the only one who was celebrating something significant in this match, with Matt Scott and Jake Granville celebrating milestones in this match. Here are five things we learned from the match:
1 Blistering opening half the key to victory
The Cowboys came into this match equal on points with the Eels, but in last place due to an inferior points differential. Therefore, in order to lift themselves from the least desirable ladder position, they simply needed to win this match. They had some added motivation, with the farewell of their champion skipper, as well as milestone matches to 2 key players, as well as playing in front of a packed home crowd.
And win this matches precisely what the Cows did. After opening the scoring through a penalty goal from the man of the moment, the men from the tropics were immediately back on the attack, and they took full advantage through a converted Ben Hampton try. And thanks another converted Hampton try, the Cows extended their lead to 14-0 after only 8 minutes. 10 minutes later, the Cows extended their lead via a try out wide to a leaping Kyle Feldt, who would score another spectacular try just minutes later. JT landed both conversions from the sideline. Gideon Gela-Mosby would use his ridiculous speed to race away for another try, as the Cows led 32-0 at the break. The Eels simply had no answer to the barrage of Cowboys attacks.
The second half saw the Cowboys pick up from where they left off, as Feldt beat Corey Norman to the ball to secure a well-deserved hat-trick of tries. The Eels would concede a succession of penalties, and they were reduced to 12 men, due to Brad Takairangi being sent to the sin bin for failing to heed the referee’s warning about someone being given their marching orders, should another penalty be conceded. Gavin Cooper wasted minimal time, barging over from close range for a converted try, to give his side a whopping 44-0 lead. Despite being reduced to 12 men, the Eels were able to nab a try through speedster Michael Jennings in the 56th minute. Jarryd Hayne thought he had scored, only for the try to be disallowed due to an obstruction in the lead-up. That was as close as the Eels would get, as the Cowboys ran out very convincing winners. Their blistering first half was vital in setting up the enormous win.
2 Deserved victory in home swansong for Johnathan Thurston
As well as avoiding the wooden spoon, the Cowboys were incredibly determined to win this match to send out their champion skipper on a high note. No doubt they would have preferred to send Thurston out as a premiership winner, or as a finalist at the least. After all, they were heavily backed to feature prominently in this year’s finals. Unfortunately, that is not the case, meaning this would be the last match that JT would play in front of his adoring home fans. There is minimal doubt that he was as determined as his teammates to have a massive game.
What we saw in this match from JT and his teammates was nothing short of phenomenal, as the Cowboys were scoring better than a point a minute at various stages in the opening half, cutting the Eels to ribbons. Of course JT had a major influence on the match, involving himself in various plays which led to tries by his teammates. He also used his kicking game to continue to dictate the play, as the Cows eased up a bit in the second half, having already destroyed the Eels in the first half. No doubt the capacity crowd of 25000 wanted to see JT grab himself a try in his final Townsville outing, as well as the Cowboys reach 50 points. Nevertheless, it was a well deserved win by the Cows, and a sensational way to mark the great man’s final appearance in a Cowboys jersey at home.
As a fantastic display of sportsmanship by the Eels, Tim Mannah and Clint Gutherson presented JT with a framed headgear from everyone in their team. Whilst JT was the undisputed man of the moment, he was not the only one celebrating something significant, as co-captain Matt Scott was celebrating 250 games, to be the first prop to reach such a milestone for the Cows. Moreover, hooker Jake Granville was celebrating 100 NRL games. However, the night undoubtedly belongs to the man widely regarded as the best of all time.
3 Where was this effort all season?
Prior to this match the Cowboys had demonstrated some of the form that saw them surge into last year’s grand final against all odds, as well as why they were considered premiership favourites in the first place. Whilst they were eventually beaten by the Sharks last week, they gave them headaches throughout the match, and could have even won the match had they had Jason Taumalolo and Matt Scott on board. Alas, this match was a must win for the Cowboys, whichever way you look at it.
The Cows didn’t just win this match, they obliterated the Eels who were made to pay for their ill-discipline. As such, the men from the tropics wasted no time in putting the blue and golds to the sword, with the attack which saw them tear shreds through opposition defences in years gone by. In addition, they very nearly held the Eels scoreless for the match. Therefore, with how the overall season has planned out for the Cowboys, their fans will be wondering where this effort has been throughout the season. Even coach Paul Green had trouble putting his finger on where it went wrong for them earlier in the season.
One area that proved telling in this match was the meter department. The Cows churned out almost 2000 metres, whereas the Eels laboured for just over 1000 metres. That was thanks to the efforts of power forwards Scott, Taumalolo and Jordan McLean, who made 178, 232 and 192 metres, respectively. In addition, Cooper chimed in with an impressive 124 metres. Of those forwards, McLean spent a lengthy amount of time on the sidelines. Many are wondering if the Cows would have won more matches, had McLean not had that bad injury from round 4. His absence was felt, as they were generally dominated in the meterage department in those losses.
Nevertheless, these late season wins suggest that they could improve significantly next season. This is especially if Jordan McLean remains injury free, if youngster Jake Clifford consolidates on the good form he has shown, if the youngsters live up to their undoubted potential, and perhaps if they are able to lure Valentine Holmes to his hometown of Townsville.
4 Poor discipline and defence very costly for Eels
The Eels would have felt rather confident coming into this match, having won 3 out of their last 5 matches, with one of those wins being a resounding win over the Dragons, who are a top 4 team. In addition, they defeated the Cowboys in their earlier encounter this year in Darwin, as well as emerging victorious in their last visit to Townsville. Moreover, they had ample motivation to ruin the farewell of Thurston, especially with a chance to move further away from the wooden spoon.
However, the tone was set for the Eels in the opening set, when they conceded a succession of penalties, which enabled JT to open the scoring via a penalty goal. That goal simply sparked the Cowboys into a frenzy, as they found holes in the Eels’ defence at will. As such, the Eels had no answer to the prowess of the Cowboys’ attack, and the men from the tropics piled on the points in a blistering opening half, to leave the Eels wondering what hit them, trailing 0-32 at halftime. The 2nd half was no better for the blue and golds, as the Cowboys were up 44-0 by the 50th minute. Moreover, the Cowboys could have surpassed the 50 point mark, especially with the Eels having Takairangi in the sin bin.
To their credit, the Eels were able to nab a try against the run of play through Michael Jennings. They were also able to prevent the Cowboys from adding to their score. Regardless, the damage was done in a highly disappointing 1st half, as the Eels were simply woeful in defence and discipline. In addition, the blue and golds had no answer to the Cowboys’ forwards, where Jason Taumalolo, Jordan McLean, Matt Scott, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper and Scott Bolton all exceeded 100 running metres. Conversely, of all the Eels’ forwards, only Peni Terepo made 100 metres, in what was a torrid night for the Eels’ engine room.
5 Wooden spoon effectively decided for 2018
The Cowboys took full advantage of the emotion surrounding the final home appearance of the great Johnathan Thurston, as well a a packed and raucous crowd, as they shot the Eels to smithereens. In doing so, the Cows catapulted themselves off the foot of the ladder, and into 14th place. Moreover, the men from the tropics drastically improved their points differential to -76 with this commanding win. If the Bulldogs lose their match to the Dragons this weekend by more than 4 points, the Cowboys will find themselves in 13th place, one win behind the Titans, who they round out their season against. If the Cows are able to defeat the Titans on the Gold Coast, they will leapfrog the Titans, due to a vastly superior points differential.
For the Eels, this abysmal display has seen their points differential spiral to -142, to be the 2nd worst in the competition. Moreover, they were consigned by the Cowboys into outright last place. With the aforementioned being the case, that is where the Eels will essentially find themselves at season’s end. The only way the Eels will shrug of the competition’s most unwanted prize is if they defeat the Roosters by well over 50 points, and hope their bitter rivals the Sea Eagles lose their match against the Broncos. No doubt that everyone associated with the Eels, including their supporters, will be wondering how their season failed so spectacularly in a season which promised an immense amount.
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