Coote the Cowboys' unsung hero
As good as the mercurial Johnathan Thurston has been over the Cowboys' 10-game winning run, alongside a host of other Test and Origin stars, it is fullback Lachlan Coote who is drawing praise from teammates for his impressive performances.
Coote has made an average of 170 metres per game in his 11 games – seventh-best in the NRL and second among fullbacks – and 217 metres per game in the past month.
He was instrumental as the Cowboys raced back from 30-6 down to win 36-6 against the Eels on Monday night, running just under 200 metres and setting up two tries.
While inspirational halfback Thurston was a deserved man of the match, the gong could easily have gone to hat-trick hero Gavin Cooper who put in a huge performance even outside his three tries, or to Coote. Props James Tamou and Matt Scott were typically huge while hard-running lock Jason Taumalolo made a big impact when he was brought back into the fray in the second half.
"Cootey at the back, I don't think he gets enough accolades for the work he does," Tamou told NRL.com after the game.
Five-eighth Michael Morgan, whose strong form in the No.1 last year cast a shadow of doubt over Coote's return to first grade this year, said it was good to see his replacement enjoying an extended run of good form after having had his 2014 season cut short by a ruptured ACL before he even had a chance to make his NRL for the club.
"He's going real well, it's good to see he's got some confidence in him again," Morgan said.
"He only played a handful of games over a number of years so it's awesome that he's been able to string a few together and play well while he's doing it."
Coote himself said he was just loving an injury-free run in first grade after some horror years in the casualty ward.
"I'm real stoked at the moment, just happy being out on the park, hopefully the run of injuries has gone out of the way," Coote said.
"Loving the form at the moment and hopefully I can keep working with Johnno [Thurston] on our combination and keep taking it one week at a time."
Of his own scintillating second-half form in which he seemed to be making metres at will, Coote said the turnaround came on the back of the side being able to stick to a game plan and start to dictate terms to their tiring opponents.
"They might have been tired at the back end so we knew if we keep doing what we do and sticking to our sets and running hard with support we knew we could get back in the game," he said.
"It's good going into the bye with a win, that's what we came down here to do is get the win going into the bye."
Coote said the overall team comeback – despite the disappointment of falling 24 points behind in the first place – was encouraging because it shows the players refuse to panic.
"Obviously we had to turn up in that second half because we weren't there in the first half. To be able to come back like that it's good character from the boys. We're finding ways to win at the moment and that's what we need to do," Coote said.
"It is [encouraging], the best thing is the boys aren't panicking and we know that if we just stick to our sets and do what the coach says we know we can get back in the game."
Tamou said it was hard watching from the bench as the Eels started the second half with yet another try to stretch their lead to a seemingly unassailable one.
"I honestly haven't [been involved in a comeback like it]. It was tough, I started the second half on the bench and they went through again at the start of the second half. I looked up and went "oh no" – it was just one of those games," Tamou said.
"Then it all sort of changes around. Completing sets got us through and they got a bit tired there.
"We spoke about it before the game and at half time, if we could complete a few sets and get them running around a bit and running back we knew we'd be alright. We knew it'd be tough at the start, they've got some big boys in the middle and we knew we had to take our medicine at the start of the game and take a few hits. Once we wore them down it showed we can score some points."
Tamou said Thurston had been the one calling the shots and leading the comeback by example, while also crediting Coote and Cooper.
"[Thurston] was the one at half time telling everyone we have to lift our game. He led us there and played well, he lifted himself too.
"[Cooper] is always impressive, plays 80 minutes, does a lot of unseen work. Big Jase [Taumalolo] is always damaging. Everyone follows Johnno's lead I guess.