North Queensland continue their impressive start to 2022 with an emphatic 35-4 win over competition heavyweights, the Parramatta Eels before a full house at Darwin's TIO Stadium.
It was the visitors that were up against it early having to deny Parramatta in defence. But, Todd Payten deserves all the credit for a massive turnaround in his side's defence. They had to repeal 4 sets in a row on their own line at one stage in the opening 20 minutes which shows drastic improvement in their defence from last season. On the back of that defence, the visitors scored the game's first points with a Valentine Holmes penalty goal following an offside penalty off a scrum to give the Cowboys an early 2-0 advantage. Parramatta was their own worse enemy, however, having plenty of opportunities to score and put the Cowboys under pressure.
Ten minutes later, Scott Drinkwater delivered the rainbow cut out pass leaving the Parra defence at sixes and sevens. Kyle Feldt took it superbly and he crashed over the line and the Cowboys extended their advantage, Holmes' sideline conversion was successful and the visitors had an early 8-0 lead. Five minutes later, Chad Townsend delivered a perfect cross-field kick and Feldt out lept Hayze Perham to cross for his second try and with another sideline from Holmes, the Cowboys led 14-0. Right on half-time, Holmes potted over a field goal and the visitors led 15-0 at half-time.
Parramatta started the better of the two sides in the second half, but the video referee took two Parramatta tries away. Firstly, Shaun Lane dropped the ball over the line. Then Mitch Moses was ruled to have knocked on in the lead up denying a four-pointer for rookie centre Will Penisini. North Queensland immediately made the Eels pay for their lack of execution with a well-worked scrum play from Man of the Match Scott Drinkwater who found Kyle Feldt and the winger grabbed his fourth career hat trick to lead 19-0. Five minutes later, Parramatta finally secured a try with Hayze Perham going over after lovely lead up work from Bryce Cartwright down the blind-side to cut the margin down to 15 points.
The last five minutes were remarkable if you were a Cowboys fan, if you were a Parra fan you were very quickly reaching for the off button on your TV remote. Jason Taumalolo made a good bust through the middle before Tom Dearden showed and goed to put an exclamation point on a dominant display. Off the next set, Drinkwater found the Hammer who barely got out of second gear and burnt past Gutherson to cross for the visitors. It only got worse, the next set of 6, Drinkwater put a chip over the top and won the race to the ball to make the final scoreline a convincing 35-4.
North Queensland was the NRL's worst defensive side by a long way last year, and the improvement in their defence especially tonight has been incredible to see and so good for the game of rugby league. Next week, there should be a full house at home for their clash with Newcastle. Parramatta has a world of problems, more alarmingly the switch off which saw 16 points conceded in the space of five minutes. The road only gets harder, they take on undefeated Penrith at Fortress Penrith.