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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 1200 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.

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    The Crowd Says (65)

    • September 24th 2017 @ 5:44am
      Craig said | September 24th 2017 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      Morgan, what can you say about the bloke. Amazing year. Ironically he will fill the #6 jersey for the kangaroos which Thurston has vacated.

      A wonderful player. And now, he’s a star.

      • Roar Guru

        September 24th 2017 @ 12:08pm
        Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        Yep – he is a walk up start for the RLWC.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 2:02pm
        Raugeee said | September 24th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

        Morgan is great – he definitely should’ve been picked at 5/8 in SOO 1 this year. Munster was tremendous in SOO 3 – I’m not sure which way Mal will go. Scott – are you starting a RLWC thread soon? Can’t wait.

        • Roar Guru

          September 24th 2017 @ 2:53pm
          Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          Let’s get over the NRL season first Raguee.

          But yes, we will be heavily covering the RLWC.

    • September 24th 2017 @ 7:15am
      Taree Raider said | September 24th 2017 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      Mitchell Pearce does not cut the mustard. He was barely noticed in the game. An indicator of how he’s going was the try Ferguson scored in the corner, Morgan chased across from the goal posts, Pearce threw a pass & stopped to a walk as the play unfolded. If the Roosters are to be successful they need to find someone better.

    • September 24th 2017 @ 7:24am
      Duncan Smith said | September 24th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      A bit harsh, Scott, to say the Roosters were never contenders. If not for Latrell Mitchell’s inexplicable feat of putting two kick offs dead, they probably should have won last night.

      With Morgan’s brilliant form, who will play in the halves for Queensland next year with Thurston and Cronk gone? A Morgan / Munster combination?

      • September 24th 2017 @ 8:14am
        Jimmmy said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Munster or Morgs will play in the centres . Too much choice .

      • September 24th 2017 @ 8:19am
        db said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        Morgan and Munster would be the pick at this stage but there is a long way to go before SOO 2018.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Rob said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        To be fair Latrell Mitchell is a 20year old winger. I don’t think kicking the ball out from the kick off lost the game. I’ve seen Mal Meninga do the same thing in Origin at 30. It was the more disciplined Cowboys who made far less errors and played smarter football for longer periods that won the game.
        The difference in my opinion is Granville, Taumalolo, Morgan, Cooper, Lowe are very good players, capable of playing Rep football and they run the show. Winterstein, Coote and Feldt are experienced and they didn’t make errors at the back.
        The Roosters have far less finals and Rep experience. They might have had speed and size out wide but between the ears the Cowboys were superior.
        Playing the Storm will be harder because they are smarter, bigger and quicker across the park.

        • September 24th 2017 @ 2:05pm
          Raugeee said | September 24th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

          I agree Rob – 58% possession was probably the crucial factor. Roosters had enough class to score 2 opportunistic tries, that cancelled out the long kick offs.

      • Roar Guru

        September 24th 2017 @ 12:14pm
        Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        Sorry Duncan, but I haven’t been impressed by the Roosters all year – same as the Broncos.

        It’s not the first time I’ve said it either – it’s a long-term opinion of mine that the Roosters and Broncos weren’t contenders, and I’ve made it pretty well-known. Fair enough, I’ve been called out on it, but it’s not like I’m just writing that because they were knocked out of the competition.

        I think they were further away than a couple of Mitchell kick-offs last night as well.

        • September 24th 2017 @ 3:53pm
          Mushi said | September 24th 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

          So what is the Scott Pride definition of contending if two of the semifinalists don’t meet the threshold

          • Roar Guru

            September 24th 2017 @ 4:54pm
            Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

            My name’s on the screen in front of you and you still get it wrong…

            Anyway, fair shout but I didn’t think the Broncos and Roosters were really the second and third best teams in the competition? Did you? I would have had the Sharks and – not during the regular season – but now the Cowboys ahead of them.

            Bottom line is, as EJ points out in the comments, no one is even close to Melbourne which makes everyone look like not being contenders.

            • Roar Guru

              September 24th 2017 @ 6:13pm
              The Barry said | September 24th 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

              I only half agree Scott.

              The Rosters and Broncos were in the top three for most of the season. I think they were clearly the second and third best teams in the comp. the fact they held that status without ever really hitting their straps says more about the rest of the comp than them.

              I thought it was a fairly ordinary standard season – although that could partly be coming off the back of a horrible Bulldogs season.

              Cracking semi finals series though.

              • Roar Guru

                September 24th 2017 @ 7:50pm
                Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

                Yeah fair call TB – I also thought the standard was down this season.

                Semi-finals have been brilliant.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 5:14pm
        Dean said | September 24th 2017 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

        Could have. Should have. Would have. But they didn’t and The Cowboys won. They could have. They should have. They would have and they did. Game over.

    • September 24th 2017 @ 7:55am
      Alex L said | September 24th 2017 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      I don’t think it’s really reasonable to cite Pearce as being poor when his team spent the second half largely unable to hold onto the football — I seriously doubt the Roosters completed more than 50-60% in the second half.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 8:38am
        db said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        That was the Roosters all season. High error count reared it’s ugly head again last night with another 13 errors. The Cowboys completed 35 from 39 sets. Add that to Morgan’s kicking game and you have a game where the outcome was simple – the better team won. The benefits from a week off are negated when you turn over so much ball and play most of the game on the back foot. As a Roosters supprter I am disappointed but not surprised.

        Congratulations to the Cowboys and I hope I’m wrong in saying they won’t win next week.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 2:08pm
        Raugeee said | September 24th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        Yes e.g JWH complete lack of discipline.

    • Roar Guru

      September 24th 2017 @ 8:06am
      Emcie said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      I know everyone’s waxing lyrical about Morgan, but this is no 2009 Eels campaign with one player dragging a team to the GF. The entire cowboys team has gone up a notch. Everyone has bought into the game plan and they’re executing it to the letter. Taumalolo has also been immense this series and made 256m last night (compared with JWH’s 68m, he probably shouldn’t be calling people out). All in all they’re a very solid outfit

      • Roar Guru

        September 24th 2017 @ 12:15pm
        Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Oh I completely agree Emcie, it’s just that I don’t have 17 talking points to wax lyrical about every player in the team.

        Taumalolo has gone past 250 metres in all three games. Phenomenal.

        • Roar Guru

          September 24th 2017 @ 1:07pm
          Emcie said | September 24th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Yeah, not having a go at your point at all mate, he definitely deserves praise. But the way some commentators are carrying on you’d think he single handedly dragged the team out from nowhere. I read an article this morning suggesting that he was channeling Hayne circa 2009

    • September 24th 2017 @ 8:06am
      AJL. said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      A Cowboys premiership would be the biggest GF upset in a very long time, certainly the biggest of the 21st century. I wonder if the first half against the Broncos was the best chance anyone had to stop the Storm this year.
      With Cronk leaving Melbourne, Jordan McLean heading to Townsville, and with Thurston and Scott back on deck, the Cowboys are well placed to be back on Grand Final day 2018.

      • September 24th 2017 @ 8:28am
        David Rosenberg said | September 24th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        Oh yeah they are going to be tough next year especially when you consider they get Mclean, Scott and Thurston.

      • Roar Guru

        September 24th 2017 @ 12:15pm
        Scott Pryde said | September 24th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        I think the Cowboys are almost favourites for 2018 at this stage.

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