Undermanned Eels grind out win against Cowboys

The Eels overcame the absence of their entire grand final forward pack and an early injury to new recruit Joe Ofahengaue to hold out the Cowboys 24-16 at CommBank Stadium.

With Junior Paulo on NSW Origin duty and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Shaun Lane and Ryan Matterson injured, the Eels this week signed Ofahengaue from Wests Tigers but he suffered a calf injury just 10 minutes into his club debut.

Hooker Reed Mahoney and forwards Isaiah Papali'i, Marata Niukore, Oregon Kaufusi and Nathan Brown have all joined rival clubs.

With Ofahengaue injured, Wiremu Greig was forced to play 47 minutes in just his 14th NRL appearance and he led the Eels forward pack as the home side withstood a late Cowboys fightback, sparked by fullback Scott Drinkwater.

 "You can focus on who is out of the team or you can focus on who is getting an opportunity and all of those guys I am so proud of, especially those middle guys," Eels coach Brad Arthur said.

"They are getting limited game time from week-to-week and they come in and then we get an injury early and they are forced to hang in there for us, and they keep fronting up. They all did a great job." 

From the outset, the Cowboys looked a different side from the one humbled 66-18 by Wests Tigers and they opened the scoring when Drinkwater swivelled out of Clint Gutherson tackle in the eighth minute after an offload by Heilum Luki.

However, Parramatta's first foray into North Queensland's 20 metre zone resulted in an easy try when Greig crashed over for his first NRL try in the 18th minute off a short Mitchell Moses ball.

The Cowboys appeared set to hit back soon after when Drinkwater broke through the defence and found support from Peta Hiku, who passed onto Chad Townsend only for the playmaker to be cut down short by Dylan Brown.

Townsend then saved a try himself on the last play before halftime when he tackled Eels winger Maika Sivo into touch to ensure the teams went to the break with the scores level at 6-6.

The Eels dominated possession and field position in the opening exchanges of the second half but winger Sean Russell was twice denied tries within a minute as North Queensland's goal line defence held firm. 

Referee Todd Smith correctly disallowed a 48th minute try after a quick catch and pass from Will Penisini travelled forward before Russell caught it and strolled over untouched.

Russell again looked set to score from the ensuing scrum, due to a Cowboys knock-on before the forward pass, but he lost the ball attempting to ground it as Ben Hampton came across in cover to tackle him.

Sivo finally broke the 6-6 deadlock when he scored in the 55th minute after Brown, Gutherson and centre Bailey Simonsson combined to create a passage for the Fiji star to the tryline.

Russell put the Eels further ahead when he was finally rewarded with a try in the 64th minute after quick hands by the Parramatta backline.

However, the Cowboys refused to surrender and winger Kyle Feldt scored two late tries - both of which were laid on by Drinkwater.

"What he said before the game I really liked. He wanted to touch the ball and have 20 carries and when he has got his hands on the ball we are a better team," Cowboys coach Todd Payten said of Drinkwater.

"He took some tough yardage carries, he took some good options in good ball and he was a real threat for us. The kid cares about how his footy grows and cares about how we go as a team.

"I have really liked his intent and effort, particularly these last six-to-eight weeks."

Feldt's first try was created with a long pass by Drinkwater on the outside of Sivo, while the second followed a Parramatta knock on after Feldt chipped over the top of his wing opposite.

Mitchell Moses secured the win when he scored in the 79th minute.

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Story first published by: NRL.com

Brad Walter - NRL Senior Reporter