Despite being just one loss away from tumbling out of the top eight, Cowboys coach Paul Green is very much looking forward to and even thankful for the tough road ahead, with his to face the three best teams in the competition over the coming month.
The first comes in the form of Penrith at Sportingbet Stadium on Monday night, followed up with South Sydney at ANZ Stadium and then Manly back in Townsville for the final round of the regular season.
An optimistic Green, whose team currently sits fourth in the latest Power Rankings, pointed toward the need for a stern challenge as part of their plan to fry the league’s bigger fish come September.
“Really good preparation, I’m really happy with how the draw has panned out, we’ve got a good mixture of games away and games at home,” he said on Tuesday.
“It gives us a good taste of having to play in Sydney, which we will have to do eventually through the finals period, and we’re playing some of the best teams so far in the competition so I’m really looking forward to the next month.”
As part of the run home, the squad will set up camp in Sydney next week for the lead-up to what shapes as their toughest challenge of the season to date, facing a red-hot Souths outfit whose worst result over the past month was a 16 point win over the Raiders in Round 20.
Had they decided to fly back to North Queensland next week, the team would have had just one day of training after accounting for travel and players’ days off by the time the Rabbitohs game rolled around.
“I think just being a short turnaround, the actual physical toll that flying takes on us, they are two big games, Penrith and Souths,” Green said.
“Both (are) sitting high up there in the top three so we want to give ourselves the best preparation possible and we felt that spending two days flying and travelling would be better spent down there and firstly recovering from Monday night’s game and starting our preparation as early as we can to play Souths on the Saturday.
“We will assess (the need to fly players down as reinforcements) after Monday night. We’ve sort of budgeted for flying a couple of guys down to do a bit of training through that week.”
The Cowboys may even need reinforcements for their next assignment, with Tariq Sims facing a date with the tribunal Wednesday after being charged with a grade one dangerous contact charge. While Green said he had not yet planned for the loss of Sims, likely replacements could be prop John Asiata or second-rower Ethan Lowe.
However, Green is confident of the case being put forward and expects his back rower to be acquitted of all charges.
“We are going to contest it, we believe we’ve got a fair case so we’ll see how we go. On the field the refs didn’t pull it up at all, so it was part of the match review. We believe we’ve got a case to go and contest the charge so we’ll go and have a crack.”
Star prop James Tamou is still listed as week-to-week, however in potentially ominous signs for fans, that was his status for the same injury two years ago, which in fact ended up sidelining him for over a month.
“He’s coming along, he’s improving. A bit slower than we would’ve liked but yeah he’s a chance [to face Penrith]. Same as last week… I said I could have named him and pulled him out on game day or I could have named him on game day so we will just see how he goes through the week again. He’s improving and he’s getting around much better at training, so if he’s fit I’m certainly going to play him,” Green said.