Moses misses birth of daughter as Eels seal Grand Final berth after ‘absolute disgrace’ of a forward pass call cruels Cowboys

Parramatta are just 80 minutes away from ending the NRL’s longest premiership drought after staging a remarkable comeback to sink North Queensland after halfback Mitchell Moses missed the birth of his first child to steer his team to victory.

The Eels are into their first Grand Final since 2009, taking on the winner of Saturday night’s Panthers vs Souths stoush, after Friday night’s heart-stopping 24-20 triumph over the Cowboys at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

They looked dead and buried when they trailed 20-12 midway throught the second half before silencing the sell-out crowd.

Immortal halfback Andrew Johns described it as “one of the bravest efforts” he had seen from Parramatta while a dubious try in the first half, via a Moses forward pass, ultimately proved decisive and will be a sore point for the Cowboys for a long time.

“I thought the pass was thrown way forward. That is a disgrace, that is an absolute disgrace, how could you miss it?” Immortal five-eighth Wally Lewis fumed on Triple M commentary. “He [referee Grant Atkins] was standing virtually on a similar line.”

Moses said he watched the birth of his as yet unnamed daughter on FaceTime a few hours before kick-off in a Nine interview straight after full-time.

“I’ve got to go meet my little one,” he said when asked about the sacrifice of missing his daughter’s birth.

Eels coach Brad Arthur said he knew if his team could get on top in field position and possession, they’d get on top of them.

“We’ve made a lot of sacrifices along the way, Mitch Moses made a massive sacrifice for his teammates today, missing the birth of his daughter, that’s huge,” he said. “At least we made sure it was worth it.

“We wanted it real bad, you could see that. I’ve seen it in their eyes since the Bulldogs game in Round 22 or whatever. They did it not me, they got together and had some real honest conversations about turning up every week regardless of how they feel and that was the mentality we took when we got up here – just get on a plane, go up there, I don’t care how you feel, just get the job done, and that’s what we did.”

Cowboys coach Todd Payten said the Eels deserved the win and didn’t blame the ref for the forward pass call.

“In my first instance I thought it was forward but looking back on replay a couple of times I thought it was pretty tight – it happened early enough in the game for us to get over it,” Payten said.

“They [Parramatta] played finals footy. The way they managed the second half was much better than ours. I don’t think they made an error and the way they scrambled, defending their line, that was the difference between a win and a loss. And, to be fair, we probably let in a couple of soft tries which turned the momentum of the game.”

The Cowboys dominated the early exchanges but the Eels drew first blood in farcical circumstances when Moses ran the ball on the last tackle and flung a forward pass wide for centre Will Penisini to touch down.

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Former Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith on Nine commentary estimated “it’s travelled about a metre and a half” forward when viewing the replay but the on-field officials saw nothing wrong with the play.

Cowboys forward Reuben Cotter equalised at 6-6 in the 12th minute when he scrambled past a few Parra defenders from close range.

North Queensland were down to 12 for 10 minutes when Jason Taumalolo was adjudged to have hit Isaiah Papali’i high with his shoulder.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Eels celebrate a try by Will Penisini during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on September 23, 2022 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“Yes, he makes contact with the head but there’s no intent there. I think it’s going to be a fine,” Johnathan Thurston said on Nine commentary although it must be reinforced that he is a Cowboys legend so his view may be somewhat skewed, although the Tongan powerhouse no longer has a date next Sunday at Accor Stadium to worry about. 

The gap in the middle was exploited at the mid-point of the first half when Ryan Matterson sent Reagan Campbell-Gillard through for a 12-6 lead.

Despite still being down Taumalolo, the Cowboys struck back to cut the deficit to two in the 25th minute when Luciano Leilua ran through Waqa Blake’s tackle out wide on the set after the Eels winger fumbled yet another high kick.

Inexplicably, Moses twice kicked out on the full with shanking bombs and the Cowboys cashed in on his indiscretions when they levelled up at 12-12 for half-time when Junior Paulo was penalised for hampering Griffin Neame in the ruck.

The Cowboys went up 14-12 early in the second half via a penalty goal and after Neame caused havoc up the middle, they spun the ball wide for Valentine Holmes to send Murray Taulagi over to extend the gap to eight.

Against the run of play, Parra cut the margin to 20-18 when RCG landed a rare try double on a crash ball from close range. 

TOWNSAVILLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Dylan Brown of the Eels passes during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on September 23, 2022 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Moses could have squared the ledger in the 63rd minute with a relatively easy penalty goal after a Kyle Feldt high tackle but his unhappy night with the boot continued.

It didn’t matter a couple of minutes later when Shaun Lane unleashed an astounding no-look pass over the head of Feldt to give Maika Sivo a saloon passage to the line and Moses nailed the sideline conversion for a 24-20 advantage.

“He hoicked it, he had no clue where it was going,” Paul Vautin surmised on Nine commentary. 

Feldt claimed a try in the 70th minute but replays showed his foot brushed the sideline as Sivo swamped him in cover defence.

Eels prop Junior Paulo was placed on report for a lifting tackle in the closing stages but should not have anything to worry about when the match review committee announces its findings on Saturday.

The Cowboys went perilously close in the final stages but the Eels hung on to kick-start wild scenes among the travelling camp and fans.

“Not many people gave us a chance coming up here. We did exactly what we came here to do,” Eels skipper Clint Gutherson said. “We’re there, we’ve given ourselves a chance. You’ve got to be in it to win it, we’re there. We’ve got one job to do now – we’ve got to get back home and start worrying about next week.”

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