What is the meaning of suffering? The North Queensland Cowboys will have to wait at least another week to find out after a loss to the Parramatta Eels, now having gone 10 rounds without a win.
The luckless Tom Dearden, who left the Broncos for greener pastures, is yet to taste victory in North Queensland colours.
Parramatta, on the other hand, has found meaning in their suffering.
Their previous four losses now forcing a wayward team to re-assess and once again become the team they are capable of being.
Their recent winless run is a fascinating portrait of sports psychology. A winning team, seemingly for no reason collapses for a month until they are able to find themselves once again.
What was the meaning of that time? It may not be apparent for some weeks or even years to come. Surely, something will have been gained in that time.
But the Cowboys are not there yet.
A team that has added a new coach and a new halfback, one that has re-positioned their forward star Taumalolo and can’t seem to figure out what to do with half-winger, half-fullback Valentine Holmes.
A team that has played their once crucial hooker at centre, fullback, and in the middle for stints.
So many answers to the one question – why can we not win?
Or, more accurately, what is the point of all this if we are not winning? This hyperfocus is surely only further de-railing their season.
And so it began against the Parramatta Eels. This was one of those days that the script seemed pre-determined.
The Eels were looking for a chance to bounce back, with finals looming. To recapture the confidence that saw their early-season success.
From the outset, it looked like North Queensland was buying into the story.
Two early tries to Waqa Blake and Will Penisini and the funeral bells began tolling.
It looked like Parramatta was on a path to toweling up North Queensland.
Debutant Heilum Luki would strike back in the 24th minute but it was instantly nullified by a Shaun Lane try five minutes later.
Shaun Lane had mesmerising touches in the early part of the game, but not always for the right reasons.
His inconsistency is at least consistent with the Eels and he is both frustrating and delightful to watch in near equal measures.
He is valuable in a middle that is short on size. Junior Paulo and Isaiah Papali’i are stout defenders but the size and mobility of Lane and Niukore added a much-needed point-of-difference.
The 28-year-old Makahesi Makatoa enjoyed another strong game in only his second NRL match.
Though it appeared Parramatta could be ruthless in their demolition of the Cowboys, unforced errors would creep into the game and gift Cowboys opportunities they would inevitably squander.
The less said about Nathan Brown’s game the better, he had an unhappy night with the hands.
Despite his workman-like ethic and spirited performances, he has certainly had a somewhat lacklustre season in 2021.
The scores would remain at 3-tries-to-1 until Will Smith received a spilled bomb and strolled over untouched.
Gutherson would follow that up immediately off the back of some great team play from the Eels.
It was all down-the-sideline, desperate kick stuff and the Eels were entertaining once more.
Much can be said of Mitchell Moses’ performance – especially with the early tries sparked by his deceptively quick running game.
As he recovers from his back injury, he is steadily building in confidence and ability.
Parramatta fans will be hopeful he can overcome a knee complaint to resume kicking duties.
It seems unimaginable that Clint Gutherson is the second-best goal-kicker on the team. Moses also provided a stark contrast to the Cowboys halves pairing.
Dylan Brown and Moses have struggled in the past month undoubtedly, but the Cowboys will need to severely overhaul their structures in the off-season.
Drinkwater, Dearden, Hampton and Townsend will all be options.
If you can figure out that puzzle, you might just have an opportunity coming up as Head Coach at the Cowboys…
Some late tries to North Queensland would temporarily spark hopes of a comeback, led by the two shining lights of the game in Holmes and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, but Brown was able to extinguish those with a final try in the 75th minute, wrapping up the game 32-16.
Not perfect from Parramatta and hugely disappointing for the Cowboys. But it was a game that meant something to both teams. And that is what it is all about, isn’t it?
Brad Arthur was blunt when he speaking about the main aim for the Eels in this game.
“We had one job tonight and that was to win a game of footy,” he said.
“It’s very hard when you’ve lost four in a row in the form that we’ve been in to come and execute your plan and get it right straight away.
“I thought we tried hard. Two things that we wanted from the boys were a bit more energy and to be more aggressive with our line speed and our defence – and we got that.”
An inability to convert their chances and not follow the game plan ultimately cost the Cowboys and coach Todd Payten knows it.
“When we get the detail part of our game plan [right], we look good. And then at times when we don’t, we don’t look so good,” Payten said.
Parramatta Eels 32 (Blake, Penisini, Lane, Smith, Gutherson, Brown) def North Queensland Cowboys 16 (Luki, Moceidreke, Granville)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Mitchell Moses (PAR)
2 Points – Junior Paulo (PAR)
1 Point – Valentine Holmes (NQL)