Cowboys' rookie strategy paying dividends
The Cowboys have done a lot for their collective confidence after a shock 0-3 start to 2015, but one of their main points of difference over the past two months has come from a surprising source.
They have played Jenga with a Brisbane-based sports psychologist and tinkered with preparation habits for both home and away games, but North Queensland has also used their fringe players strategically over that time.
The three winless weeks turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it forced coach Paul Green’s hand at the selection table and made the club conscious of the importance of managing emotions and keeping morale high from early in the season.
Since then, both injury and good Intrust Super Cup form has brought nine new faces into Cowboys sides since Round 1, with all but one player aged 25 or under.
Boom 21-year-old forward Patrick Kaufusi is the next in line, having been listed at 18th man twice this year before being omitted closer to game day.
Centre Kane Linnett says that those on the cusp of selection bring a natural energy that is unparalleled throughout the group and is something the club has fed off throughout the season.
“You can definitely sense that excitement in the younger boys trying to make their way into the team,” Linnett told NRL.com.
“That energy is definitely infectious for all the boys and it’s great for all of us. They’ve been working hard for a long time now and it gives the whole group an energy boost.
“Spina has been in the system for a couple of years and he’s been doing a good job and I’m really excited for him. Patrick (Kaufusi) has got a big career [ahead of him] as well.”
On-field success makes everything easier, but it especially rings true for the fledgling players trying to forge a permanent playing spot in the NRL side.
As Linnett notes, coming into a winning team makes the transition into first grade easier for young players because there is no added pressure to do more than what they are capable.
“There's probably not as much pressure coming into a winning side, but everyone coming into the team knows they have a job to do and so far the boys that have come in have done an awesome job,” he said.
Fellow centre Justin O’Neill recalls his top grade debut and the energy he and other young inclusions brought to the club at the time.
O’Neill debuted in the Origin period for the Storm against the Sydney Roosters in Round 14, 2010 and says the new experience made it the most memorable.
“I got named at fullback but ended up playing on the wing. I think Greg Inglis was out, someone went in and I was pretty nervous but at the same time a little bit excited,” O’Neill told NRL.com.
“The whole preparation, being with the squad and everything, it was all new and I didn’t know what to expect. I think with those kinds of experiences you end up bringing a lot more energy to the team and playing well.
“You can definitely see it when someone is really eager to get in there and have a crack, you can feel it in the sheds before the game, it’s good.
“I remember everything being new and I felt like it made everything more exciting.”
Whether the blooding of young players during the first half of the season has been a conscious coaching decision or simply a product of circumstance, the confidence of Green and his group has skyrocketed since Round 3 and it has largely come from those on the periphery.