In the pre-game press conference in Darwin, a local journalist asked Brad Arthur if the decision to book a red-eye flight straight after the game was made to prevent his players from enjoying the nightlife in Mitchell Street.
After this defeat, the Eels coach, who always has 16 bottles of water lined up in front of him during games, looked like he could use a stiffer drink in the Top End’s party precinct.
This match was always going to tell us more about the bona fides of North Queensland than Parramatta. The Cowboys have been the surprise packet of the season to date, but just how good are they?
None of their previous four wins were notched against premiership contenders and they were touched up badly by the Roosters, making it hard to determine just how much they had improved.
However, after rolling Parramatta, they have showed they are the team most likely to move from outside of the last year’s top eight into a play-off berth.
It was achieved on the back of tremendous goal-line defence. The Eels continually peppered their line in the opening half but were repelled on every occasion. This from a team that was ranked last for points conceded last year (31 per game in 2021); they now sit behind only the league-leading Panthers without the ball. For 64 minutes, their line wasn’t breached.
Not only was Todd Payten’s side able to defend their errors, they capitalised on those of Parramatta. Kyle Feldt was the main beneficiary, scoring a hat-trick. Two of those tries came in the space of just six minutes in the opening stanza to blow the game open. The first was from a wonderful pass from Scott Drinkwater, who has done enough to retain the No.1 jersey despite the return of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow from injury.
The Eels were down and out in Darwin.Credit:Getty
The second was courtesy of a cross-field kick from Chad Townsend, who made up for a couple of early errors to enjoy a win in his 200th match. When the winger touched down for a third time midway through the second half, the match was effectively over.
Tio Stadium has been a home away from home for Parramatta. Having already established a fortress at CommBank Stadium, the Eels had won six of their previous seven matches in the Top End. However, the hot and sweaty conditions – it was 30 degrees at the time of kick-off – were more familiar to the men from Townsville. They soaked up everything Parramatta threw at them and completed 31 of 35 of their sets in a masterful display.
This is North Queensland’s best start to a season since their grand final year. They now sit within the top four, a position they should consolidate against Newcastle next week if current form holds up. But after all three matches on Saturday resulted in upsets, nothing is a given.
Jason Taumalolo was involved in a wonderful battle with Regan Campbell-Gillard as the forward packs tore into each other. However, the Cowboys playmakers took control when they cancelled each other out.
Drinkwater has been a revelation at fullback, Reece Robinson was effective in attack and defence and Reuben Cotter appears to bob up everywhere. Payten’s men were one of the favourites for the spoon but appear likely to finish closer to the other end of the ladder. This was their best win under his stewardship.
Parramatta have some difficult decisions to make. Dylan Brown was in career-best form at five-eighth but has been forced into the centres after an injury crisis struck the Eels outside backs. Perhaps it is time to move him back.
The answers the Eels seek will need to be found quickly; their next assignment is Penrith in Penrith.
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