A brilliant return from Johnathan Thurston inspired a 32-6 thrashing of the Parramatta Eels by the North Queensland Cowboys in Darwin on Saturday night.
Queensland coach and Fox Sports commentator Kevin Walters was practically laughing with delight as Thurston and Hess ran riot over a Parramatta side that offered very little.
The victory cements the Cowboys' position in the top eight, two wins above the eighth-placed Penrith Panthers.
It only took six minutes for Thurston to leave his mark on the game, after an error and a penalty gave the Cowboys prime field position. The North Queensland captain capitalised on the attacking opportunity with a perfect cross-field kick, which came into the arms of a flying Kyle Feldt who crashed over to post first points.
The Eels were unable to turn pressure into points when they had three consecutive sets in possession, continuously repelled by the Cowboys defence, before North Queensland almost crashed over through Coen Hess only to be denied by Semi Radradra.
A penalty off the next set gave the Eels another shot at the Cowboys' line, but Radradra spilled the ball at the last second. Kane Linnett made use of the possession, bursting through the line before earning a penalty. The Cowboys extended their lead by another two after a late shot on Thurston gave the playmaker an easy shot at goal.
The Cowboys backed up their points with solid defence in their next defensive set, and a brutal axing of Mitchell Moses by Hess earned crowd favourites North Queensland a penalty when Parramatta instigated push and shove with the back-rower after the tackle. Thurston was soon at it again with another cross-field kick landing perfectly in the hands of the unmarked Feldt.
North Queensland went into the sheds well on top, after another penalty gave Thurston two more easy points.
The penalty woes continued to grow for Parramatta after the break, with the Cowboys enjoying a 7-2 advantage and quickly capitalising again with Johnathan Thurston dummying to Hess only to scoot through untouched on his own.
Fatigue seemed to test the Eels as the game progressed, as Nathan Davis caught a towering Thurston bomb only to step into touch. Again they were made to pay with Thurston sending Hess through a broken line virtually untouched.
The Cowboys officially turned it into a massacre when a Lachlan Coote cut-out pass sent Winterstein strolling over untouched to make it 32-0 with 20 minutes left in the match.
Parramatta came up with their only try of the night after the Cowboys gave away their third penalty of the game, with Brad Takairangi outstepping the Cowboys' line after receiving the ball from Tim Mannah before beating fullback Lachlan Coote to the line to score beside the posts.
Cowboys 32 (Kyle Feldt, Johnathan Thurston, Coen Hess, Antonio Winterstein tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) def. Eels 6 (Brad Taikairangi tries; Clint Gutherson 1 goal) at GIO Stadium. Half-time: 14-0. Crowd 11,968.