North Queensland have farewelled their spiritual home in Townsville with a rugged 15-8 NRL victory, which ended the Bulldogs’ finals hopes.
Belief – and its subsidiary, confidence – are the always sought after. They are ever-prised attributes for any team, or individual, in any sport.
Leading into the pinnacle of the Australian rugby league season understandably the two remaining teams possess and preach these very attributes in ubiquitous rehearsed terms, honouring the would be keys to their triumph.
Yet these two teams form guide couldn’t be more juxtaposed. The Melbourne Storm have commentators flabbergasted trying to reach for fresh superlatives on this champion team of champions, which when the dust settles in a decade or so may be considered one of the greatest rugby league club sides ever.
On the other side of the coin North Queensland limped into eighth place through a massive dose of last round good fortune. No real expectations and a quick finals exit were the diagnosis. The symptoms to those assumptions were an apparent lack of class, and too high an injury toll.
Enter a Paul Green K.I.S.S masterclass. Perhaps seeing the negatives in his team too that everyone else saw, he asks himself the question “if we are to win this grand final how do we do it?”. Complete, complete, complete.
In its simplicity it is the perfect do-or-die finals football game plan. Hold the ball and your nerve, relentlessly and mercilessly pressure your opponent, take your opportunities when they come.
Seeing the Cowboys implement this simple game plan with brutal efficiency it suddenly becomes obvious that they deserve to be true contenders, also that maybe they are very underrated in their current no Thurston, and Scott format.
Yet as we head into the Cowboys second grand final appearance in three years, they are the unfancied outsiders for the fourth finals game in a row. Despite their compelling finals performances, the reasons why they are the underdogs are obvious when you look at the difference in pedigree across the team sheets.
Pedigree or not you don’t break from a winning formula so I wouldn’t expect to see anything radically different from the Cowboys this week. Will this honest game plan and honest football side be enough to overcome a mighty Melbourne Storm?
The long answer and the short answer is yes. You only need to look at the three pillars to the Cowboys current success and their roads to get where they are.
Paul Green coached Wynnum-Manly to successive Queensland Cup premierships in 2011 and 2012. Then as an assistant coach at the Sydney Roosters in 2013 they won the NRL Premiership, also in this season he was the head coach of the Roosters NYC team which reached a preliminary final.
His first year at the Cowboys reaped finals football rewards, his second year in 2015 reaped a premiership. Not resting on his laurels, the Cowboys again pushed deep to a preliminary final in 2016, and here we stand in 2017 with the side in another grand final. That is an extremely undeniable and impressive six-year resume.
Supplementary, the current Cowboy talismans Michael Morgon and Jason Taumololo track extremely similar rises, both debuting in first grade at a young age in 2010, and regularly featuring fill ins over the next few years. They played in an NYC grand final loss to the Warriors the next year, Morgan at halfback.
Morgan helped push the Cowboys deeper into finals at NRL level 2012 with a record three-try haul against the Broncos in a semi-final, at halfback again.
The next year due to personal tragedy and circumstance Morgan stands himself down from first grade, and plays out the season at the Mackay Cutters in Queensland Cup premiership, Taumololo is there as well. They star all year and in the grand final win they were both dominant, Morgan especially so. Starting with a classy draw and pass to finish to a heads up play in the right corner, then a slick tip on to put his winger away, followed by a solo try. All very familiar bullet points.
Prompt returns to the NRL for them both saw a lucrative 2014-2017. Flick passes, massive charges, and famous victories have driven these two leaders to a tipping point in their young careers. They don’t need to ask themselves where they will find what they need to win on grand final day, because they have already answered these questions emphatically time and again.
The stage is set for these three and the Cowboys. When the facts are broken down while the odds may be against them it is far closer than the popular opinion is giving them credit for. So while the 2017 grand final may be the Melbourne Storm’s to lose, just don’t be surprised if they do.