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.
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.
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.