Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Take a look at the Cowboys road to the finals as they prepare to play the Broncos in week one of the Telstra Premiership Finals.
1. False Start
Renowned for their attacking brilliance, the Cowboys looked nothing more than a shambles instead in their opening game of the season as they fumbled their way to a woeful 18-0 loss to the Gold Coast at Dairy Farmers Stadium. North Queensland produced a whopping 28 errors and completed just 46 per cent of their sets to give coach Neil Henry the first genuine coaching headache of season 2012. Ironically, captain Johnathan Thurston was the main culprit with six errors.
2. Bowen brilliance
From a demoralising low to an exhilarating high, North Queensland put the pain of their opening-round shocker behind them to score a thrilling win over rivals Brisbane in the dying minutes at Suncorp Stadium. Trailing 26-22 with just over two minutes remaining, the Cowboys earned a scrum feed 30 metres out and from the scrum base Matt Bowen picked up the ball, dummied and raced straight through to give his side a memorable win.
3. Right-side attack
North Queensland’s right edge has been their go-to zone with the ball in hand, with centre Brent Tate and winger Ashley Graham striking up a lethal combination. Graham has been among the NRL’s top try-scorers all year with 21 tries from 22 games while Tate has made 14 line-break assists, produced 12 try assists and 74 tackle-breaks to go with his eight tries. The Cowboys have scored 49 tries on their right side compared with 37 on their left.
4. The Bowen factor
His Round 2 heroics aside, Matt Bowen has played a key role in North Queensland’s run to the finals this season. Displaying the spark of old and showing no signs of the multiple knee reconstructions he underwent a few years back, Bowen’s speed and playmaking skills have terrorised opponents all season. He ranks sixth in the NRL for tackle-breaks with 109 as well as producing 24 try assists, 18 line-breaks and scoring 12 tries.
5. The rise of James Tamou
Cowboys prop James Tamou caused quite a stir in 2012 with his decision to turn his back on his native New Zealand in order to represent Australia and, more importantly, NSW. However, that was good news for North Queensland because it was his superb form up front at club level that had Blues coach Ricky Stuart knocking in the first place. Tamou has averaged 150 metres per game this season – outpointing fellow North Queensland bookend and Queensland Origin prop Matthew Scott (137 metres per game) in the process.
6. Tariq Sims heartbreak
The Cowboys suffered a significant setback in Round 11 when boom young back-rower Tariq Sims broke both bones in his left leg and was ruled out for the season. Sims had established a reputation as the side’s enforcer in the pack, with a penchant for powerful charges and monster hits. He was also in line to make his State of Origin debut for NSW but has instead been forced to watch the remainder of North Queensland’s campaign from the sidelines. The rest of the Cowboys have toiled hard to cover for his absence.
7. Friendly Origin
While fellow Queensland club Brisbane found out just how debilitating the State of Origin period can be, the Cowboys emerged relatively unscathed this season despite having four key players – Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matt Scott and James Tamou – involved in all three games. The side went 3-3 during the Origin period and has finished the season strongly in the seven games since with six wins.
8. Road warriors
The Cowboys have historically struggled away from home but they more than held their own in 2012 with seven wins and five losses from their 12 games. Among their more impressive away trips were wins in Cronulla, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Wollongong – all typically tough places to travel and pick up the competition points.
9. Stats Kings
If premierships were won on statistics alone, you could just about post the NRL trophy to Townsville already. The Cowboys rank in the two top sides in the NRL for everything from points scored, tries scored, metres gained, line-breaks and tackle-breaks to decoy runners and support plays where they comfortably swamp all opponents. And they have improved significantly in a number of these areas, with rises from last year in average points scored (22.4 up to 24.4), metres gained (1362 to 1432) and line-breaks (4.5 to 5.4).
10. Taking sides
A favourite play of North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston is to attack down the blind side (he does exactly the same while playing for both Queensland and Australia) so it’s no surprise that the Cowboys have produced far more short-side plays than any other side in the NRL. Thurston and co. have attacked down the left on 189 occasions this season and 142 on the right for a total of 331 short-side plays – in total 50 more than any other side.