The season is over, so stop with the Cowboys superlatives

Lee Oliver Roar Rookie

By , Lee Oliver is a Roar Rookie

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    The NRL grand final is done and dusted and I for one am glad. Like other footy fans I’m sad that the season is over but I’m relieved that I don’t have to listen to more media exaggeration about the North Queensland Cowboys’ so-called “fairytale” and “miraculous” season.

    Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Cowboys’ run in the playoffs – winning three straight sudden-death games to reach the grand final – was special. But the media throwing around superlatives as regularly as a star playmaker throws cut-out passes – really?

    The overly parochial Queensland sports media wets itself over Johnathan Thurston and his team’s exploits but it seems all rugby league media was excessively gushy over the Cowboys “overcoming adversity” this year. Oh, please. Spare me the histrionics! We’re talking about the team that won the premiership two short years ago – with 12 members of its 2017 grand final side.

    As for the Cowboys’ injury woes, they had four players out for the season. Compare that to the season-ending injury toll endured by Gold Coast (ten), Newcastle (eight) and Wests Tigers (six). After North Queensland lost Australian prop Matt Scott early in the season and champion halfback Thurston required surgery on his busted shoulder mid-year, a lot of people wrote off the Cowboys’ title chances.

    I thought that while Paul Green’s team probably wouldn’t seriously push for the title, they were sure things to make the top eight. Despite North Queensland’s noted injuries, it’s hardly miraculous that the team qualified for the finals.

    Cowboys coach Paul Green

    (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    When Thurston was ruled out for the season in June the Cowboys were comfortably in the top eight, two wins ahead of the ninth-placed team. The Cowboys then compiled a 5-5 record in its final 10 games of the regular season. Five of those games were against teams below North Queensland on the ladder. For some perspective, in 1999 the Brisbane Broncos won 12 of its last 14 games to finish eighth, after winning one of its first 10 games that season.

    North Queensland’s march to the grand final was as impressive as St George making the 1996 decider. A team with just three then-current Origin players, the Dragons qualified for the grand final from seventh position by winning three sudden death matches.

    The Cowboys are a team that knows how to win – and hasn’t had a losing season since 2010. Without Thurston and Scott, the Townsville side still boasted seven international players, including four State of Origin representatives and the reigning Dally M player of the year and league’s most destructive ball-runner, Jason Taumalolo.

    Thurston’s replacement as Cowboys’ halfback was Michael Morgan. Morgan isn’t a rookie thrust into a pressure-cooker atmosphere after being thrown into the deep end by his coach. Sure, he normally plays in the number six jersey but we’re talking about an Australian Kangaroos representative who has won several State of Origin series with Queensland and has around 130 NRL appearances to his name.

    Was it really that surprising that Morgan stood tall in JT’s absence and led the Cowboys around the park so professionally? He’s a proven match winner – the guy who orchestrated a miraculous last-second try that led to the Cowboys winning the 2015 grand final.

    There have been more astounding positional changes that produced on-field success. In the 1999 semi-finals, Matt Geyer shifted from Melbourne’s wing to replace Ben Anderson at five-eighth, then helped his team win the grand final. Five years after a 14-game NRL career, 28-year-old halfback Shane Perry helped Brisbane win the 2006 title. The Storm reached last year’s grand final without Billy Slater, the best fullback of the modern era. Those are arguably “fairytale” stories.

    Was North Queensland’s 2017 season memorable? Yes. Gutsy? Absolutely. Perhaps even remarkable? Sure. Was it a fairytale? No.

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