Parramatta fans can officially start dreaming of a breakthrough premiership after equalling their best start to a season since their most recent title triumph.
- Parramatta have had their best start in 34 years, as the Eels went 5-0 with a victory over Penrith
- In the other match, the Warriors had a seven-tries-to-five victory over the Cowboys
- The Cowboys lost two players before half-time with Valentine Holmes and skipper Jordan McLean forced off with injury
The Eels extended their unbeaten start to their campaign with a 16-10 comeback win over neighbourhood rivals Penrith on Friday night.
The victory followed a win for the Warriors over the Cowboys in Gosford.
Not since they last lifted the trophy in 1986 have Parramatta, who retain top spot on the ladder, opened the season with five consecutive victories.
Brad Arthur’s side did it the hard way in front of a crowd of 507 at Western Sydney Stadium, stealing the win with a three-try, six-minute blitz in the second half.
The Panthers themselves were looking at their best start since their maiden premiership in 1991 when they scratched their way to a 10-0 half-time lead.
But it was former Panthers centre Waqa Blake who was the catalyst, scoring the Eels’ first try in the 62nd minute before setting up the second, scored by Clint Gutherson, in the next set.
Parramatta completed the comeback three minutes later when a Mitchell Moses grubber wrong-footed the Penrith full-back for Ryan Matterson to touch down.
The Panthers fought hard in search of the equaliser in the final minutes, but were held out by a desperate Eels defence.
Penrith suffered a setback in the opening set of the game when second-rower Kurt Capewell limped off with a suspected knee injury.
After a closely contested opening 20 minutes, it was Parramatta who cracked first when Brian To’o danced over down the right flank.
Penrith star Nathan Cleary, playing in his first match since serving a two-game ban for flouting social-distancing regulations, stepped up for his first attempt on goal.
The Eels did their best to put him off, with the DJ playing Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, the song Cleary was dancing to when busted on TikTok.
The ruse paid off, with Cleary hooking his shot badly.
The Panthers were unmoved, however, taking a two-try lead into the break when Josh Mansour took advantage of a poor defensive read to score.
The visitors also showed plenty of commitment in defence, at one stage turning the Eels away for five consecutive sets on their line early in the second half.
Then Blake turned the game on its head.
First the centre stiff-armed Stephen Crichton to score, before he broke into the backfield for Gutherson in the next set to get the comeback in full swing.
Warriors down Cowboys as Valentine Holmes injured
It was a score-fest on the Central Coast with 12 combined tries, but the Warriors had enough in reserve to beat the Cowboys 37-26.
A bad night for the Cowboys was made worse, with the North Queensland side left waiting on scans on Saturday on Valentine Holmes, who failed to play out the first half after an injury to his left ankle.
It was the fifth minute of play when Holmes came up grimacing after getting tackled by Warriors prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown.
Holmes was a spectator for a while as he stayed on, then came to the sidelines to talk to medical staff about his left ankle.
He went back on with his ankle strapped, and even scored his side’s first try after 15 minutes, but he was clearly hampered.
The Cowboys full-back struggled on for a little longer but, after 27 minutes, the Cowboys decided enough was enough and Holmes came off.
North Queensland also had to cope with an injury to Jordan McLean that ruled the skipper out after 20 minutes.
The Warriors’ kicking game was on track from early on.
In the eighth minute, Blake Green laid on a perfect chip over the Cowboys’ defensive line, for Patrick Herbert to race in and touch the ball down on the half-volley.
Holmes answered for the Cowboys, and Kyle Feldt went in for another score just after the opening quarter of the match.
But as both sides struggled to get on top defensively, Warriors second-rower Eliesa Katoa put the New Zealand side ahead again after 25 minutes.
Warriors five-eighth Kodi Nikorima was proving hard to stop, setting up attacks, kicking conversions and adding a field goal that made it 17-12 to his team at the break.
He added to his highlights reel early in the second half, using a volleyball punch to send the ball on to winger Adam Pompey, who gathered and went in for a try in the corner to boost the margin after a try to Justin O’Neill gave North Queensland hope within a minute of the restart.
The teams swapped tries, with Francis Molo’s score answered with Peta Hiku’s second try of the night on 55 minutes. Hiku —who had gone over five minutes before the break — wrapped up a hat-trick 16 minutes from time.
The Cowboys’ defence was unable to keep the Warriors out and Karl Lawton completed his team’s seventh try of the game with 10 to go. Kyle Feldt answered for the Cowboys, but it was too little, too late.
The big win from the Warriors’ defence was shutting down Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo, who was not much of a factor.
The Warriors had too much momentum for their opponents, outgaining the Cowboys by nearly 600 metres.
The win puts the Warriors up to 10th place, at least temporarily. The Cowboys were hoping to consolidate a spot in the top eight but they will have to rely on other results to avoid dropping out after this round.