Scott: We believed the hype
No one has ever accused Matthew Scott of doing his talking anywhere other than the middle third of the football field but the Cowboys prop admits that his side got caught up in their own positive publicity ahead of the 2013 season.
With the incumbent Test props and the mercurial Johnathan Thurston in their squad, 12 months ago North Queensland were one of the premiership faves but a horror start where they won just two of their first six games and four through the halfway point of the season made a finals appearance seem highly unlikely.
A six-game winning streak to end the season saw them scrape into the finals in eighth spot but Scott, on just his second day back at training, has admitted that pre-season predictions somehow seeped into their subconscious.
"We got ahead of ourselves last year, we thought we were going to go better obviously than what we did," Scott said.
"There was a lot of talk about the squad we had without actually performing so I think everyone is pretty keen to get out there this year and let the talking happen on the field.
"It was a bit of an eye-opener. It doesn't matter what sort of team you've got or how good the squad is, if you can't perform on the night then it doesn't mean much and you're in for an early holiday.
"I think we're probably a bit more realistic this year and know that we've got to work a lot harder and we've got to perform a lot better on the day of the game."
An analysis of their statistical performance across a range of categories in 2013 will have shown new coach Paul Green that the Cowboys need to be significantly better across the board if they hope to go deeper in September this season.
They were seventh for points scored per game (21.0), eighth for tries (3.6), tied for fourth in try assists (3.0), tied for seventh in line-breaks (4.1) and ninth in offloads (8.7).
Defensively, the Cowboys were 15th for tackles made per game (286.7), seventh for missed tackles (22.3), eighth for offloads conceded (8.8) and eighth in tackle percentage.
There are no horror stories there for Green to sift through but it highlights the fact that the 2013 Cowboys were simply average.
Their results for the first two-thirds of the season cost coach Neil Henry his job and Scott said that he noticed on his return a different atmosphere under Green and his assistant, former Raiders head coach David Furner.
"It's what you want to feel when you come back into a club, not necessarily a change in staff but it's a good feeling and you can feel that everyone is excited," Scott said.
"I'm keen to get out there and work with [Green]. I had a meeting with him yesterday and everything he says makes sense. It sounds great and it sounds like we've got a lot of direction at the moment and everyone knows what their job is.
"We have to work harder in the pre-season. Not that we didn't work hard last year but we have to really buy in to what Greeny's telling us and put all our effort into that."
While this week marks the return of Scott, Thurston and Brent Tate to pre-season training, fellow Kangaroos representative James Tamou turned up to training a week earlier than anticipated, eliciting a mixed response from his senior front row partner.
"Young guys always do that. Give him a couple more years of first grade and he might not be so keen," Scott joked.
"It's great for his state of mind, he obviously felt ready to come back. He looks in pretty good nick – he always does, apart from that beard – but it's great to see him that keen to go."