North Queensland have welcomed captain Johnathan Thurston back in style tonight, souring the Parramatta Eels' visit to Darwin with a 32-6 victory at TIO Stadium.
A rugby league record crowd at the venue of 11,968 was treated to a classic performance from one of the game's best, which started in the seventh minute with a well-placed cross-field kick finding Kyle Feldt to open the scoring.
Parramatta went close around the 20 minute mark when Radradra tried grounding the ball near the dead ball line, but the Bunker wasn't happy with how it looked and sent it back.
Nearing the half-hour mark North Queensland picked up a penalty after Kenny Edwards hit Thurston late - JT had no trouble adding two more to the score. A few minutes later Eels fans were left fuming when it looked as though Coen Hess had hit halfback Mitch Moses late, but the referee ruled it okay and instead penalised Parramatta for the afters involving Nathan Brown.
The Cowboys grabbed their second try a few minutes after the controversial penalty, with the same play working again for Thurston & Feldt, albeit a little a wider out. Feldt grabbed his second but Thurston couldn't convert, leaving the visitors ahead 12-0.
Thurston made up for the missed conversion on the halftime siren, converting another penalty goal attempt to have them up 14-0 at the break.
Having been content just setting up tries and kicking goals, JT then added his own name to the tryscorers list five minutes after halftime, effectively ending the Eels' hopes of storming back into the contest. The Cowboys went on with the job with Coen Hess and Antonio Winterstein both bagging 'meat pies' of their own, propelling the Townsville-based side to a 32-0 lead just after the hour mark.
There was a glimmer of hope and enjoyment for Eels fans in the 69th minute when Brad Takairangi crossed for his side's only try of the night, but it was cold comfort for a side expected to fare much better having welcomed back Corey Norman.
Parramatta have plenty to think about before they head home to ANZ Stadium and host the Dragons next Sunday, while the Cowboys go from the Top End to the bottom end, visiting AAMI Park in Melbourne next Saturday for a clash with competition leaders the Storm.