North Queensland pull off another Houdini act, Manly are starting to turn the corner after a torrid start to 2015, and the Cowboys forwards are showing more and more each week.
Cowboys do not panic under pressure
To think that the Cowboys once had confidence issues…
Yet again they have pulled victory out of seemingly nowhere and again it was pint-sized hooker Jake Granville stepping up to the plate. The Cowboys have already established that they have multiple match-winners at their disposal, but they are only match-winners because the whole unit is composed during the heart-in-mouth moments. Last year, in games decided by four points or less the Cowboys were 2-7, while this year they are 4-1. The difference is not in personnel; the difference is in mindset.
"(Winning by a close margin) is certainly a good sign," coach Paul Green said after the game.
"Teams that have that confidence in each other… don't panic. We didn't panic but we looked for things that weren't there either.
"It was a really good effort defensively considering all the ball we gave them.
"It was great composure from 'Johnno' (Thurston) to make the play at the end there, but also give Jakey Granville a massive rap; he created the break there for Cootey which gave us a chance to win the game."
Manly are getting their mojo back
Manly are showing flashes of their former self after a successful last four rounds, which have seen them concede just 49 points over that stretch. Illustrating the progress they have made this year, Parramatta almost put that number on them in Round 1 alone in a 42-12 thrashing. The Sea Eagles' trademark defence (ranked third last season) is back and their goal-line attack looked sharp at stages on Saturday night. Their left edge is starting to take some shape, and it is no coincidence that it corresponds with the return of Jorge Taufua. The Tongan national bagged a double on Saturday – his second and third tries of the year – and has rekindled the lucrative combination with Kieran Foran and Brett Stewart on the left side. The left edge ran like a well-oiled machine on a couple of plays close to the line, as the sweeping Stewart had good shape to work with as well as a bona fide star in Taufua to target. Look for that combination to thrive even more in the coming weeks as the presence of Daly Cherry-Evans draws defenders' attention away from Manly's dangerous left side, giving Foran more room to operate.
"He was good," Toovey said of Foran's return game.
"I was pleased that he got through the game well. He's still probably not at his best but I thought he played exceptionally well."
North Queensland possess a skilful forward pack
The Cowboys' pack is known as one of the league's most brutal with the likes of Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo punching holes up the middle time after time. But there is a seldom talked-about aspect of their game, as interchange forward John Asiata pointed out.
"All our middles can play that (ball-playing) part. Everyone in the middle, we can all pass the ball," he told NRL.com after the game.
With a halves background, Asiata knows a skilled forward when he sees it, and says Matt Scott is the epitome of a well-rounded prop forward.
He runs smart lines, has a big motor, has ball-playing ability and has even shown a hint of footwork with his second try of the night coming off something of a right-foot step against the grain.
"He can control the ball just as well as myself or anyone in the forward pack," Asiata said.
"You can't ask for more form a front-rower."
Earlier this season coach Paul Green lauded Asiata's ball-playing ability, saying his pre-line pass was one of the best at the club, and that his forwards are encouraged to have a bit of ball-playing skill at their disposal. North Queensland are one of the league's highest passing teams and it stems from their confidence to move it through the centre of the field.
Tom Trbojevic is a future star
At just 18 years old, Manly's back-line utility Tom Trbojevic possesses a catalogue of skills many seasoned pros would be proud to claim. Standing at 192 centimetres, he towers over opponents and the clean pair of heels he showed in his 90-metre dash off a Thurston intercept was more than impressive. Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan can match it with just about anyone in the competition over 100 metres and Trbojevic, with ball in hand, held his own in the race to the opposite try line, only to be denied right at the point of planting the ball. While Manly list Trbojevic as a fullback, he displayed a keen sense of awareness playing out on the fringes on Saturday, covering a deft grubber to the in-goal along with out-leaping the taller Kane Linnett for first hands to a Jamie Lyon kick. Trbojevic also used his big frame (96 kilograms) to help his forward pack by logging over 100 run metres on top of the 90-metre breakaway.
Manly confident of keeping touch with top eight
They sit at the bottom of the ladder with two victories against top four side the Melbourne Storm as the only feathers in their cap, but Manly coach Geoff Toovey is confident of his veteran side making a run up the ladder in coming weeks. The Sea Eagles aren't as successful as North Queensland in games decided by four points or less (2-3 this season).
"We will dig ourselves out of it," vowed Toovey.
"We are well on the way to doing that as you can see in the way we play. I've said in the last couple of weeks that we were probably unlucky to lose both of those matches.
"But it's reality and we need to brush ourselves off and work hard and take on Brisbane (next week) who are in pretty good form."