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2022 NRL Grand Final Qualifier, Cowboys 20 Eels 24 – Report

Parramatta Eels have won the first Grand Final Qualifier in Townsville on Friday night to book a berth at the 2022 NRL Grand Final

MATCHDAY RESULTS

SCOREBOARD

North Queensland Cowboys 20
Tries: Reuben Cotter (11),  Luciano Leilua (25), Murray Taulagi (52)
Goals: Valentine Holmes 4 (13, 38 – pen, 49 – pen, 54)

Parramatta Eels 24
Tries:
Reagan Campbell-Gillard 2 (18, 57), Will Penisini (6), Maika Sivo (64)
Goals: Mitchell Moses 4 (8, 19, 58, 65)

MATCH REPORT

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The Parramatta Eels became the first team into the 2022 NRL Grand Final with a win over the North Queensland Cowboys in an exciting first Grand Final Qualifier in Townsville.

The Cowboys came out all guns blazing in the opening minutes but the Eels that silenced the home crowd with the first try of the match in the sixth minute. A try didn’t look likely as Mitchell Moses was thrown a shocker for the fifth tackle kick, but he scrambled well and eventually found Isaiah Papali’i, who charged down the blindside and then passed outside to Will Penisini, who completed the journey. The crowd silence turned to boos as the pass from Moses looked very, very forward, and it had taken the NRL officials less than 10 minutes of the Grand Final Qualifier weekend to embarrass themselves. Still it was quick, good ad-hoc work from Moses and his conversion made it 6-0.

The Cowboys overcame their disappointment five minutes later, as a seemingly nothing play saw Reuben Cotter receive the ball 15 metres from the line, and from a slow jog he simply charged into a gap and ploughed through the Eels’ goal-line defence to score. Valentine Holmes’ first conversion of the night evened up the scores.

North Queensland suffered a blow not long after their try as Jason Taumalolo was sent to the sin bin for a late and high shot on Papali’i. It was a blow for the Eels as Papali’i had to leave the field for a HIA.

The Eels took advantage of the extra man not long after when Reagan Campbell-Gillard crashed through Peter Hiku to score on the back of Hiku giving away a needless penalty to give the Eels a helping hand up the field. Moses easily converted for a 12-6 lead.

Despite still being a player down, the Cowboys scored their second try of the night, as Reece Robson went to a narrow blindside and Luciano Leilua muscled his way through the Eels’ defence to score in the corner. Holmes missed the converted and the score remained 12-10 to Parramatta.

North Queensland had the better of the remainder of the first half, but the scores were even going into the break, as the Cowboys got two points courtesy of a penalty within kicking distance. Despite making many more errors than the Cowboys – including Moses kicking out on the full in consecutive sets – Parramatta’s defence was keeping them in the game. But the Eels had taken their opportunities better than North Queensland too.

The second half started off as real arm wrestle, so it was no surprise that a penalty goal was the next score, and North Queensland were the recipient, which gave them their first lead of the night (14-12). This was a second penalty after Waqa Blake was earlier penalised for a hair pull on Leilua.

On the next set the Cowboys had extended their lead. The lead up to the try saw Tom Dearden make a break up the centre, and the subsequent play saw Reece Robson find Scott Drinkwater and he and Holmes threw beautiful passes to the left: at the end of the movement was Murray Taulagi, who did well to score in the corner. Holmes kicked the sideline conversion for a 20-12 lead.

Against the run of play Parramatta scored through Campbell-Gillard who charged through an ordinary tackle attempt close to the line next to the posts. The gap was now reduced to just two points, and could have been even with their next set, but Moses dragged a relatively easy penalty goal chance wide.

The missed penalty goal mattered little as Parramatta scored from the set after the dropout through Maika Sivo. The Eels went the blindside and Shaun Lane managed to hit and spin and throw to perfect pass to Sivo on the sideline. Moses also kicked the sideline conversion to give the Eels a 24-20 lead. Parramatta were now on top after spending most of the game on the back foot.

A crucial moment came with six minutes to go after Junior Paulo gave away a penalty in great territory for the Cowboys, but despite the intense pressure of repeat sets the Eels’ defense kept North Queensland out. Parramatta also survived one last Cowboys raid in the last minute to hang on for victory.

For Parramatta it is their first NRL Grand Final appearance since 2009 and a chance to break the longest current drought of active premierships (with Canberra just infront of them). They may not have been the best side for a majority of the game, but they took their opportunities and backed that up with great defence. Their second half was superb and enough to win a premiership next weekend if it can be replicated for 80 minutes.

For North Queensland, getting to the Grand Final Qualifiers will be seen as a great achievement, especially given the huge turnaround in ladder position from 2021, but they will also rue not making their overall advantage count on the night in front of a huge crowd. But they can surely mark 2022 as a great success, as shrewd signings and developing talent give them plenty to build on for next season.

PLAYER OF THE FINALS POINTS

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3 pts – Reece Robson (Cowboys), 2 pts – Shaun Lane (Cowboys), 1 pt – Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)

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