Cowboys v Titans: Five key points
It was largely mission accomplished for the Cowboys as they checked some critical boxes heading into finals, Agnatius Paasi is a player to watch and North Queensland's middle is getting stronger.
Cowboys got what they came for
For North Queensland, their Round 26 match was all about checking boxes. Coach Paul Green wanted to combine the brilliance shown only in flashes throughout the year into the 80 minutes on Saturday, and for the most part he got his wish.
"I thought we got out of it what we wanted to and that was a pretty complete performance together," Green said.
"Still could be a little bit better obviously but I thought we competed well. We were pretty good in a couple of effort areas of the game which probably weren't there in the last couple of weeks."
Attack has become one of the main concerns in the absence of regular five-eighth Michael Morgan, and winger Antonio Winterstein says the nine tries against the Titans will stand them in good stead for the Broncos next week.
"We needed (those points) going into next week's game and the Titans chucked everything at us. They had nothing to lose so we had to be on our toes there and I thought our forward pack really dominated that middle there and created a lot of space out wide for the outside backs and edges," he said.
Green also complimented fill-in five-eighth Ray Thompson on a more effective attacking display than last week.
"I thought Ray was solid. I thought his attack was better than last week. He looked more comfortable and that's probably an area of our game last week that was a little bit off and I thought tonight he played his role really well," he said.
Agnatius Paasi has a bright future
Gold Coast's energetic second-rower has had a very solid year, playing 18 games and logging absurd minutes for a rookie over the past four games (74, 80, 80 and 80 minutes respectively).
With the ability to shift gears quickly and run a good line on the edge of the ruck, Paasi exploded through the Cowboys' defence on Saturday night twice and showed more footballing nous in an exchange with Kyle Feldt.
In the Tongan's first break of the night he was ankle tapped and once on the ground, stripped of possession by Feldt, only to get back up and do the same to Feldt and run 30 metres to score. Unfortunately the try was disallowed on video review.
"Some guys are only rookies this year and they've stepped up for most of the year," coach Neil Henry said.
"Agnatius Paasi on our left edge, another 80 minutes and he's a rookie and he's really improved and he's a good player of the future."
Cowboys goal-line defence strengthening
North Queensland's try-line defence has been suspect to say the least at times this season but seems to be coming together when needed. They have conceded just two tries per game in the last two outings after leaking an average of 23 points in the four games prior.
"I spoke about it at half-time. I thought in the second half we did that pretty well," coach Paul Green said after the game.
"We were certainly put under the pump down there on our try line for three or four sets in a row and we managed to defend it and got back out of it, got back control in the game and finished it off."
Gold Coast had plenty of opportunities on the Cowboys' line but the wall would not be breached – with a Daniel Mortimer kick and James Roberts line break from the 30 metres out the two plays which set up Titans points.
Cowboys release pressure too easily
The Cowboys are prone to releasing the pressure valve when they have an opponent on the ropes and it's a concern heading into the finals next week.
Sometimes they are victims of their own enthusiasm, which was the case in the first penalty of the night where James Tamou was on the ground obstructing the Gold Coast dummy-half.
Other times they get frustrated that their early efforts are not being rewarded on the scoreboard.
"We do (get frustrated), winger Antonio Winterstein said.
"But we pride ourselves on defence and we just want to slow the ball down. If we give the penalty away, it's good for us. We can regroup and everyone gets a breather there and we can defend our line a bit better with a lot more attitude."
Green added: "We didn't defend our penalties early and they got points off the back of it, so we probably need to work a bit harder there."
Their early energy was impeccable; forcing Titans kicks from 35 and 30 metres out form their own line on the first two sets, whereas the Cowboys opened the game with two attacking high balls from Thurston and Coote. But the pressure built from the game's first four sets amounted to nothing when Tamou gave away the penalty.
Tired Titans trudge to finish line
The second half encapsulated Gold Coast's season in a way. Underlined by injury after injury and a contract about-face by Daly Cherry-Evans, the grind just got the better of the Titans as they emptied the gas tank early, leaking five tries in the final 18 minutes against the Cowboys.
"We looked a bit tired tonight. Some guys have played bigger minutes than they'd probably expected to," Henry said.
Few can question Gold Coast's effort throughout the year, and they stood stoically while receiving multiple body blows; but in the end the lack of numbers got to them on Saturday.