The Cowboys again got themselves out of a sticky situation on Saturday, but surely alarm bells are starting to ring up north for the run to the NRL Telstra Premiership finals. Ricky Stuart was surprisingly optimistic after the 32-24 loss, and James Tamou is stepping up since returning from suspension.
Cowboys still not playing full 80 minutes
It's the same story for the Cowboys every week and it seems to have gotten to the point where even they can make light of the matter.
The first 40 minutes against Canberra was some of their worst of the season, but North Queensland came out of the sheds a different team.
After the game, head coach Paul Green joked about how they are trending upward in that facet of the game.
"Obviously our completion rate is really, really important; then the ends to sets is the icing on the cake. That needs to improve. We were good for 20 minutes last week, we were good for 40 minutes this week, so it should be at least 60 minutes next week and hopefully 80 minutes the week after," he said.
While both Green and his players realise the issue is there and has been all season, there is no sign of panic in the group at all about their ability to play the full 80 when it really counts. The clock is certainly ticking for North Queensland with just five weeks remaining in the season.
Stuart full of praise for Raiders despite loss
They battled manfully but ultimately it wasn't enough as Ricky Stuart's men got overrun by a wave of blue and grey that went for 32 unanswered points before Kurt Baptiste's last-minute try. Stuart denied that fatigue and conditions were factors in the loss, saying that it was simply the built-up pressure of an overwhelming possession rate in favour of the Cowboys.
"We are a very, very fit football team and I think we handled the conditions extremely well. We only used three interchanges in the first half. We prepared for it. The way we played the first half is how we prepared. We were such a dominant footy team in the first half, we were wonderful in the first half.
"We're as good as that footy team (Cowboys). We showed that in game one (Round 15) where we had 42 per cent of the ball in our first round against them. And it's not disrespectful to the Cowboys. We had 42 per cent of the ball and we were 21-20. Tonight, going into that second half. When we got up there, we had two sets of six and scored a try. It's probably hard for all our fans and supporters to see it, but I can take something out of tonight's game and I will. I've got one very tough squad of players there and I have a very, very good football team that will develop into a strong squad.
Cowboys bench playing impeccable football
Utility Rory Kostjasyn looks to have locked down the No. 14 jersey but the three forwards that partnered him on the bench on Saturday look to also be the three of choice as North Queensland make their run toward September. Ben Hannant had a throwback game in Matt Scott's 200th as the milestone man faltered in the first half, with fewer than 50 metres to his name. After a slow start, it was the injection of Hannant into the contest that started to swing the energy the Cowboys' way. After the game Green said that he was more than pleased with the production he is getting off the interchange.
"He was really good, Benny. He's been doing a great job; all of our bench have been doing a great job. Johnny Asiata was really good off the bench there tonight, 'Bolt's (Bolton) and Rory Kostjasyn. When they come on in the games the tempo of our play doesn't really drop which is important.
On top of Hannant's efforts, John Asiata made 113 metres and Scott Bolton 81 off seven runs.
Raiders still right in the hunt for finals berth
Canberra have a red-hot Manly Sea Eagles ambushing them from behind on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder and a Dragons side due for some luck camped on their heels, but the ninth-placed Raiders are still a huge chance of making the finals. Their run home is Wests Tigers (home), Manly (home), Gold Coast (away), Penrith (home) and Parramatta (away). The talent is there but it's a matter of applying themselves – the Raiders have not won two games in a row since Rounds 8 and 9 (Rabbitohs and Titans).
"We look at each game (individually). Tonight is disappointing because it probably makes it harder (to make the top eight). But we don't go out there trying to count numbers and where we've got to be and who we've got to play and what we've got to do. We just worry about next week," Stuart said when asked whether making the top eight is still the expectation.
James Tamou responding after return from suspension
Known for giving his players the hard word, it wouldn't surprise us if Cowboys taskmaster Paul Green let his prop know that his absence from the Round 19 game at Brookvale after suspension incurred at Origin Game III would have to be made up at club level. Tamou has increased his defensive workload since coming back and seems to have added a couple more runs on top of his average of 14 per game (18 v Parramatta and 16 v Canberra). With every passing week Tamou seems to be more fluent and trusting of himself. The rest during Round 19 would not have done him any harm either.