Five talking points from Sydney Roosters vs North Queensland Cowboys NRL preliminary final

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    The North Queensland Cowboys have done it again, overcoming all the odds to get over the Sydney Roosters in the second NRL preliminary final by 13 points. Here are my talking points from the match.

    Note, before we get into the meat and potatoes, there will be no specific point of Jason Taumalolo – but he was again freakish with 256 metres and 21 runs. It’s just that we could go to last week’s article and hit copy-paste.

    I’m running out of words to describe Michael Morgan
    I didn’t think he could get any better – surely not? But no, he did. Morgan didn’t put a foot wrong from start to finish in the preliminary final.

    He has put in superb performance after superb performance over the second half of the season, adapting to life without Johnathan Thurston like a duck to water.

    He took it up a level against the Sharks, then another against the Eels and again last night. It was probably the best game Morgan has ever played, and that’s not overstating things. Regardless of the result next Sunday, Morgan is the player of the finals.

    The crafty half just has a knack for picking the right option every time. The 40/20 he kicked early in the game was something even Thurston would struggle to do, while hit cut out ball at the line for Kane Linnett to score couldn’t have been anymore accurate.

    They were just two examples of the stunning plays Morgan pulled off. There’s no question he is the most in-form player in the game right now.

    Can the Cowboys challenge the Storm?
    I’m not in the business of writing teams off – especially teams who have made a vast majority of us look silly three weeks in a row.

    I refuse to write the Cowboys off when they march onto ANZ Stadium next Sunday to face the Storm in the grand final.

    With that being said, I’m going as close as you can without actually doing it. The Cowboys have been damn good and there’s no doubting that. They have simply played what’s in front of them, fought for 80 minutes and it’s proved to be a pretty good winning formula.

    This is a side who have premiership winners in their own right, but it’s just difficult to see them competing with the purple wall. Billy Slater is electric, Cameron Smith is dominant and Cooper Cronk is consistently brilliant.

    In Cronk’s final game for his club, you’d have to think they will be up for it, while also having last year’s grand final loss to the Sharks fresh in their mind.

    The Cowboys may have a plan to beat the Storm. Turning the ball over in good positions and playing for 80 minutes will be a big part of it, but class and clutch plays are going to be an issue.

    Craig Bellamy’s mob haven’t set the world on fire, but logic says the Cowboys shouldn’t get close. I’ve tipped them twice, but won’t be doing it a third time.

    The Roosters were never premiership contenders
    I’ve been highly critical of the Roosters this year in my regular talking points column, but it’s been with good reason, despite some good-natured call outs from Roosters fans.

    Sure, they finished second on the ladder, but they never looked like going the distance. While everyone talked about Cronulla’s lack of discipline and their ability to ‘just get it done,’ Trent Robinson’s men weren’t much better. You could count the amount of times they played 80 minutes during the season on one hand, and the amount of times during the finals with a fist – zero.

    They were inconsistent at best, almost lost a few games they should have won comfortably and it was clear, even with a spirited performance that saw them almost beat the Storm away from home, that they were never going to be in the hunt for a premiership this year.

    The rise and progression of North Queensland’s second row makes a difference
    Gavin Cooper is a veteran of the game. His combination with Thurston has been second to none on the left edge over many years for the Cowboys.

    But the rise of Coen Hess and Ethan Lowe has made a serious difference for the Cowboys, not just this season but more so during the finals.

    Arguably, Lowe was actually stronger during 2016 than what he has been during 2017. The bottom line is that he has been consistently brilliant for two years. You can rely on Lowe to do his job in both defence and attack week in and week out.

    Even more impressive has been his goalkicking during the finals. He sunk a few pearlers from the sideline last night, and it’s debatable whether the Cowboys would have won the game without them, given the crucial periods of the game.

    As for Hess, it’s little surprise he was picked for the Queensland side in State of Origin this year. I first saw him play for the Australian under 20s side a few years ago, and he hasn’t taken a backwards step for the Cowboys.

    He will lock down a starting role in the next couple of years, but for now, he remains one of the best impact players in the comp. He has an uncanny ability to find the tryline and is dangerous every time he touches the ball. As well as that, he is brilliant in defence – he made 22 tackles in 29 minutes last night.

    The pair have been keys to the Cowboys finals run, and will have roles to play next Sunday.

    Mitchell Pearce still isn’t a big-game player
    It’s not a groundbreaking revelation. Apart from his short pass at the line that led to Boyd Cordner’s try last night, there was very little that Pearce did to stand up and be counted for.

    He ran the ball just eight times in 80 minutes, not breaking the line once and barely assisting his teammates to do the same. Unfortunately for the Roosters, his kicking game was inconsistent and failed to find the mark more often than not and it hurt the tri-colours.

    With Luke Keary failing to stand up as his halves partner, it was always going to be an uphill battle with Morgan playing the way he was.

    Roarers, what did you think of the second preliminary final? Can the Cowboys go past the Storm next week? Drop a comment below and let us know.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.