Jarryd Hayne's return lifts Eels past Cowboys
What a difference a week and one player made for Parramatta on Friday night, maintaining their unbeaten record at Pirtek Stadium this season with an 18-16 win over North Queensland.
It's easy to suggest that the reinclusion of fullback Jarryd Hayne was the difference, and while he was again sublime for the Eels, the impact the fullback had on the rest of his teammates reflects the development of Hayne as a leader.
The Parramatta co-captain was rested last week for the local derby against Penrith just two days after the epic Origin battle at Suncorp Stadium, watching his teammates dish out mediocrity without him.
But on Friday night he inspired his side back to the winner's book after a gutsy defensive effort against one of the most lethal attacking teams in the competition.
The Cowboys had plenty of opportunities in the final 20 minutes to snatch victory, and while they scored two tries, the Eels held firm to show the type of resilience that has been missing from the men in blue and gold for a few years.
Despite the impressive showing in their own backyard, the Eels have only won one game away from home this season, a concern for coach Brad Arthur.
However their seventh win of the year on Friday night eclipses the most number of wins in a season during their two years as wooden spooners in 2012 and 2013.
With hooker Nathan Peats out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and back-up hooker Kaysa Pritchard also in the club's rehabilitation ward, the Eels have been in search of No.9 to fill the void for the rest of the season.
The Eels are this weekend set to announce the signing of Cronulla rake Isaac De Gois for the remainder of the season, granted a release from the final few months of his contract at the Sharks to join the Eels.
De Gois, who has played eight games for Cronulla off the bench this season, is expected to link with the Eels next week and could be available as early as next Sunday's grudge match against arch rivals Canterbury at ANZ Stadium.
Luke Kelly and Joseph Paulo shared the dummy half duties against North Queensland, however neither player is accustomed to the role.
With Blues coach Laurie Daley in search of a new centre for game two following the injury to Josh Morris, Will Hopoate didn't do himself any favours with an underwhelming performance against Penrith last Friday night.
But lining up against Johnathan Thurston on Friday night, Hopoate contained the Queensland playmaker, although he'll have to contend with a rampaging Greg Inglis if he's selected for the Blues for game two.
Corey Norman squandered a guaranteed four pointer when he dummied to an unmarked Tim Mannah in the early minutes, but they didn't have to wait long to post first points with Junior Paulo crashing over from a Joseph Paulo short ball.
The Eels then made it 10-0 when Kenny Edwards offloaded to Hayne in open space, who in turn drew the fullback to put Radradra over for his 12th try in as many appearances this year.
The Cowboys hit back through James Tamou, but a try to Sio on the stroke of half time sent the Eels into the sheds with a 14-6 lead.
Things didn't get any better for the visitors to start the second half, with Pauli Pauli and Sandow combining to put Hayne in for the Eels' fourth try of the night.
Sandow's inability to convert three of those tries kept the game alive, with the Cowboys setting up an exciting finish when Antonio Winterstein crossed our wide to reduce the deficit to 18-10 with 16 minutes remaining.
Cowboys fullback Michael Morgan scored late but the Eels survived a late onslaught to hold on to victory.
Parramatta Eels 18 (J Hayne J Paulo S Radradra K Sio tries C Sandow goal) North Queensland Cowboys 16 (M Morgan J Tamou A Winterstein tries J Thurston 2 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, Gavin Reynolds. Crowd: 10,142
Sydney Morning Herald