Ruthless Eels put depleted Cowboys to the sword
JOHNATHAN Thurston's absence from the North Queensland side was evident more than ever after the side slumped to a comprehensive 26-6 loss to Parramatta on Friday night.
Thurston was expected to make his return from a calf injury for the game, but instead was a late scratching after the problem flared up again after the captain's run on Thursday.
Without their skipper to steer them around the paddock, the Cowboys were outclassed as they lost their third home game of the season.
After conceding a number of early penalties, the home side were under the pump from the get-go with the Eels gaining a heap of possession.
The Eels looked to have their first points in the fifth minute when Tepai Moeroa took on the defence, but interference from club debutant Will Smith saw the try denied.
The blue and gold didn't have to wait long when four minutes later Corey Norman sliced open the defence to put Clint Gutherson over in the corner.
Without Thurston the Cowboys' fifth-tackle options were hurt their ability to mount any pressure.
They did manage to find their way up to the Eels' line midway through the first half with makeshift half Asiata taking on the line but a flick pass floated forward.
"Their kicking game hasn't been good enough. Michael Morgan needs to improve in that area," Fox Sports NRL expert Braith Anasta told Friday Night Footy.
"Morgan has to step it up. He's playing in the halves. Their key chief playmaker in Thurston is out; he's just not doing enough."
Co-panellist Mark Gasnier added: "He let Asiata take the first three kicks - one went out on the full, one went dead.
"When the possession does swing, Morgan needs to take control."
Minutes later, Gutherson had his second when Michael Jennings caught the defence napping and cut through to put his fullback over behind the sticks.
Moeroa was ruled out for the rest of the game shortly before the break when he was collected high by Cowboys prop Corey Jensen. Gutherson stepped up to take the penalty goal and make it 14-0 at halftime.
The Eels were back at it shortly after the resumption of play when Jennings again took advantage of some poor defence to put Nathan Brown in the clear who in turn passed to Smith to score.
The Cowboys scored their one and only try in the 64th minute when Asiata made a crossfield kick which was spectacularly dived on by winger Antonio Winterstein.
Minutes later the Eels were reduced to 12 men after Kenny Edwards became the first player in NRL history to be sin-binned for slapping after a melee broke out between him and Cooper.
Despite being a man down, the blue and gold defence held strong then piled on more pain for the Cowboys when Tim Mannah barged over to rub salt into the wounds.
Stand-in captain Gavin Cooper fell awkwardly on his shoulder in the dying minutes of the match but was confident he wouldn't miss any game time.