The Eels beat the Cowboys 24-20 in a stunning comeback victory to be the first team to qualify for the 2022 Grand Final after an epic preliminary round at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
The Eels trailed 20-12 in the second half before scoring two late tries against Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Maika Sivo to clinch a memorable win.
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Campbell-Gillard was outstanding with 130 yards and two barn tries, while Shaun Lane was a workhorse and delivered stunning defensive plays and scored 129 yards and an assist to be one of the Eels’ best.
The Eels scored first through a controversial try from Will Penisini after Mitchell Moses appeared to throw a pass forward in the build-up on a controversial call.
Reuben Cotter charged from close range to level the Cowboys after a frantic run to the line.
Jason Taumalolo was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder to the head of Isaiah Papali’i, which saw the Eels striker leave for an HIA and the Cowboys skipper could face a suspension.
Campbell-Gillard charged from close range for his first try to see the Eels regain the lead.
Luciano Leilua broke in, although Moses complained of being held up in the ruck to keep the Cowboys in touch.
Niukore was penalized for a ruck infraction allowing Valentine Holmes to lock the scores at 12-12 at half time with a long-range penalty.
Papali’i was penalized for raking the ball in a tackle on Taumalolo to give Holmes the chance to put the Cowboys ahead after the break.
Holmes then produced an abnormal pass for Murray Taulagi to dive into the corner to extend the Cowboys lead.
However, Campbell-Gillard charged through a shaky defense to secure his brace and bring the Eels within two heading into the final quarter.
Shaun Lane produced a similar pass to Moses in the first half to put Maika Sivo over the top to give the Eels the lead after a superb seven-minute blitz.
Kyle Feldt nearly scored in the corner which would have kicked Holmes in for the win, but replays showed he stepped out and the try was taken away from him in agonizing scenes for Cowboys fans.
The Cowboys threw all but the kitchen sink at the Eels in the final 10 minutes, but the Eels’ stoic defense held on to put them in their first Grand Finals since 2009 after a gutsy performance for the ages.
Taumalolo’s SLIM chances to play in GF | 01:26
The Cowboys Team: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Reuben Cotter 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13 Jason Taumalolo 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Luciano Leilua 16. Coen Hess 17. Griffin Neame. 18th man: 18. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Players Cut: 19. Tomas Chester 20. Jake Granville 21. Brendan Elliot 22. Ben Hampton
The Eel Team: 1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 19. Bailey Simonsson 5. Waqa Blake 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Isaiah Papali’i 17. Marata Niukore 13. Ryan Matterson 14. Bryce Cartwright 15. Jakob Arthur 16. Oregon Kaufusi. 18th man: 18. Makahesi Makatoa
Cut Players: 4. Tom Opacic 20. Nathan Brown 21. Ofahiki Ogden 22. Ky Rodwell
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