Saturday 23 September 2017 / 10:51 PM

FINALS WASH-UP: COURAGEOUS COWBOYS GIVE EELS THE SLIP

The gutsy North Queensland Cowboys’ fairytale run continues after they advanced to the preliminary final with a 24-16 victory over the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night in Sydney.

Trailing 10-6 at half-time, the Cowboys were brilliant through the second 40, scoring 14 points to consign Parramatta to a two and out finals record in 2017.

Earlier the departing Semi Radradra had gone 100 metres for the opening try of the match on seven minutes, before the Cowboys hit back swiftly via a brilliant finish to Kyle Feldt.

Parramatta’s second started with a fortuitous bounce for Will Smith, before the fill-in No.1 beat the initial line and skipped through an attempted tackle from Jake Granville to score an 85-metre solo effort.

The Cowboys would probably have been relieved to only trail by four at the break, and just five minutes into the second period they hit the lead thanks to a brilliant kick chase from prop John Asiata, who jumped high and stripped the ball from Smith to fall over under the sticks.

The Eels could have hit back five minutes later, but instead Manu Ma’u spilled the ball over the line and North Queensland went down the other end a short time later and scored through Coen Hess, who was the recipient of a lovely inside ball from Te Maire Martin.

Lowe’s third conversion of the night took the gap out to eight, and from there Parramatta started to self-destruct via a glut of handling errors, before both Michael Morgan and Michael Jennings crossed for converted tries inside the final five minutes to finish things at 24-16.

North Queensland Cowboys 24 (Kyle Feldt, John Asiata, Coen Hess, Michael Morgan tries; Ethan Lowe 4 goals) Parramatta Eels 16 (Semi Radradra, Will Smith, Michael Jennings tries; Mitchell Moses 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium.

Cowboys: Guts personified

The Cowboys probably have no right to be playing for a spot in the Grand Final next week.

Adversity has been a constant for the North Queensland outfit through the second part of 2017, having done the job without their talisman, Johnathan Thurston, and representative front-rower Matt Scott.

The toughness of Paul Green’s side was on full display again at ANZ Stadium, from back-rower Coen Hess playing big minutes through a knee injury picked up midway through the game, to their comeback from a first half where it appeared they were going to be outclassed by the Eels in front of their home crowd.

Magic Morgan

Michael Morgan did just about everything he possibly could to influence the result in the second half, coming up big for his side when it really mattered.

The powerful playmaker laid on a try, scored one himself and made a handful of defensive plays built off a pure desire to win.

He finished the game having carried the footy 14 times for 85 metres, and his kicking game caused some real dramas for the opposing back five.

North Queensland are used to the bloke wearing No.7 being the hero, and on Saturday night Morgan played the role brilliantly.

Lack of size big for Parra

With Tepai Moeroa having pulled out pre-match with a concussion, and Siosaia Vave overlooked in the final 17, the Eels were dealt a major blow in terms of the makeup of their pack when they lost Daniel Alvaro to a head knock inside the opening five minutes.

It left the remaining troops to try and counter the sizeable North Queensland middle unit for 75 minutes, and while they more than held their own in the first half, it started to show in the second.

In the end Parra just couldn’t contain the momentum generated by the likes of Jason Taumalolo, John Asiata, Coen Hess and Scott Bolton.

Kick defence a concern ahead of Roosters

All three tries the Cowboys leaked at ANZ Stadium came via kicks – two from them while deep in attacking territory, along with a scrappy one late from the Eels.

That will have alarm bells ringing for coach Paul Green, who will know it’s an area they’ll now be targeted in by a Sydney Roosters side who have talented kickers Mitchell Pearce and Luke Keary in their 17.

A look back at the tries the Cowboys gave up highlight two major issues, the first being the direction of some of their kicks, and the second being their kick-chase efforts and organisation.

Second-half fumbles prove costly

After coughing the ball up only three times through the first half, the Eels made nine errors in the second stanza and melted in the heat of finals footy.

It meant that by the end of the match North Queensland had enjoyed 54 per cent of the possession – which they put to full use by completing at 82 per cent and forcing four repeat sets – and saw Parra have to make 77 tackles more than their opponents.

Fate conspires against Eels

It just wasn’t meant to be for Parramatta in their return to finals footy for the first time since 2009.

It started with an untimely injury to boom fullback Bevan French, before they were ‘rewarded’ for finishing fourth by being given a brutal first-round match against the runaway minor premiers Melbourne, and then in the semi-final they were cruelled by a couple of key injuries.

In the end they were beaten by better teams in week one and two of the finals, but after a fantastic regular season, this finals just didn’t go the right way for the Blue and Gold.

Farewell Semi

You can say he’s only a winger. You can say the next version of him is probably sitting somewhere in the U-20 or reserve-grade competitions. But it’s hard to deny that Semi Radradra will be missed.

The Toulon-bound Fijian flyer has delivered so many moments across his five-season NRL career that have taken our breath away, and even on Saturday night his try to open the scoring was a thing of beauty.

It’s not the first time a superstar winger has left rugby league for the 15-man code, it won’t be the last and life will go on. But after 82 tries in just 94 career appearances, Semi’s absence will be noticeable.

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