Pride, pain and positives for shattered Cowboys
Their season may have once again ended in controversial circumstances but shattered Cowboys players have spoken about their pride in each other's performance and the positives they can take into 2015.
Cowboys prop James Tamou told NRL.com in the sheds after the game that this isn't a time for the players to beat themselves up over a poor start to a semi-final that saw them down 30-0 after 30 minutes.
"Looking back over the year, it's more how proud I am for the boys. Obviously we're disappointed tonight – it hurts like hell. Especially to see your captain [Johnathan Thurston] in tears, you can tell he's beating himself up over it. He just beats himself up and that hurts, when your captain's like that."
But Tamou said that massive performance from the skipper – who was relentlessly smashed by Roosters forwards when taking last-tackle kicks but still managed to inspire a momentous comeback through skill and sheer bloody-minded competitiveness.
"It really makes me look back on the year and just think how proud I am," Tamou said.
"He really is a competitor. He just really wants to win – that's just how he's built and the way he is. He was the first one we when came back in, we got a couple of tries before half time and when we came back in at half time he was the first voice everyone heard saying if we complete some sets, if we get some good kicks down, we can definitely come back and we did come back at that point."
Tamou said there remained plenty of positives for the side ahead of 2015.
"Mate there are good signs, ‘Greeny’ [coach Paul Green] has done well for his first year. We've got a lot more to learn from him. It's definitely promising for us, especially with the likes of Michael Morgan at the back there."
Five-eighth Robert Lui was also optimistic for 2015, both in terms of his own much-improved form and for the team overall.
"We've got guys like Michael Morgan, he's been one of the best this year, Jase Taumalolo, he's been incredible this year," he said.
Of his own form, Lui said he's just trying to take the pressure off Thurston, who he describes as the best player in the world.
"Personally I thought I put myself in a good position for next year – I don't want to look too far ahead, take baby steps, get my off season right, try not to eat too much of mum's food and stay in shape! I'm really keen for next year," he said.
Lui said there are a good core of senior players remaining mixed with some promising youngsters who will be at the club in 2015.
"Some of us boys have really stepped up – between myself, Morgan, Ray [Thompson], Rory [Kostjasyn], Jimmy [Tamou] leads us, we've got young guys like Corey [NYC forward Corey Jensen] coming in, Ethan Lowe, Johnny Asiata, they're going to be big for us next year.
"We also lose a few of our brothers there – Ashton and Tariq Sims. We wish them well, they'll always be a part of our brotherhood. We wish them well into the future."
Lui said arguably the best sign for the squad is what first-year coach Paul Green has been able to achieve in a short space of time.
"He's a good coach, backed up by great assistant coaches with good people around him. He gets the best out of us. I think in the near-future he's the man to get our premiership for our people back home," he said.
Lui said it feels like a premiership-winning squad.
"We felt like we could have gone all the way this year but there has to be a loser and there has to be a winner and we were the loser."