The Roar
The Roar


Is the NRL's version of Sliding Doors ready to end?

The Cowboys will take on the Sharks in Round 1 of the NRL season and they are one of the favourites for the premiership in 2018. But are all of our experts tipping them to win? (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
19th September, 2017
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I wonder what the St George Illawarra players are thinking now. If they’re still thinking of what might have been, then watching North Queensland’s fairytale run through the finals would be doing their heads in.

If the Cowboys were to win the grand final, it would make their Sliding Doors moment the one to end all Sliding Doors moments.

Even if the fairytale ends in their preliminary final against Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, it will still have been a jolting reminder that everything that happens in the NRL – no matter how inconsequential it might seem at the time – means something.

Every try, every goal, every pass, every kick and every run. Every minute and every second. It’s all a means to an end.

You’ll recall the Dragons were just 15 minutes away from ending North Queensland’s season when they led Canterbury 20-14 in the final round. Then the Bulldogs scored a converted try to level the scores and backed that up with another to win the game 26-20.

The Cowboys had been waiting since the Thursday, when they lost 20-10 to Brisbane, to the Sunday to find out if they would hang on to eighth place and make the finals.

A St George Illawarra win would have seen Paul McGregor’s men make the eight at North Queensland’s expense.

I’m not saying the Dragons would have done what the Cowboys did and still been alive halfway through the finals series, but at least they would have had the chance had they not failed to better the Bulldogs when the chips were down.

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The obvious tips in the preliminary finals are Melbourne over Brisbane at AAMI Park on Friday night and the Roosters over the Cowboys, and that’s the way I’m going.

I can’t see a good reason why the Broncos would beat the Storm – in Melbourne or anywhere else, for that matter – but while the Roosters should win the other game, I’m wary of that one.

The Tricolours haven’t been playing for 80 minutes. They had to rescue a top-two spot with the latest of comebacks to beat Gold Coast in the final round and then almost butchered a win over Brisbane in the first week of the finals.

They should have cleared out against the Broncos, but instead they let them back in with a sniff and actually trailed inside the final ten minutes before Latrell Mitchell grabbed the win with a powerhouse try.

North Queensland have been playing with enormous spirit. Cronulla really should have beaten them in the first week of the finals, but the Cowboys kept hanging in there and snatched a late win. In Week 2, they out-played Parramatta. They’re getting better at the right time.

The Cowboys are playing like a team that won’t beat themselves. They might not be good enough to win the game, but the Roosters are going to have to prove that.

If the Roosters again drift in and out of the match they’ll be inviting big trouble and the previously unthinkable could happen – North Queensland going all the way to the grand final despite being without Johnathan Thurston.

Cowboys coach Paul Green’s stocks were already strong, but they have skyrocketed off the back of this finals run minus the superstar halfback.


Meanwhile, the man who coached the Bulldogs to that last-round win over the Dragons that kept the Cowboys alive, Des Hasler, has been sacked by his club.

Fortunately for North Queensland, Canterbury found some form late in the season. Only problem was it was too late to save Hasler.