<b>7. Jake Granville</b> - One of only two Cowboys players to appear in every game of their premiership-winning campaign, topping all NRL hookers for tries and line breaks with 10 apiece.

Exposed by Brisbane in week one of the NRL Finals series, Cowboys hooker Jake Granville says he now understands the difference in finals football ahead of Saturday night's preliminary final clash with the Storm in Melbourne.

Playing behind a forward pack that totally dominated their opposition in running for over 500 more metres in hit-ups in Saturday night's semi-final, Granville played 52 minutes and a key role in getting his forwards over the advantage line with searching runs from dummy-half.

Seven days earlier the 26-year-old struggled to keep pace in the biggest game of his young NRL career but said it was a valuable lesson in preparing to take on the Sharks in their sudden-death encounter in Townsville.

"I was ready for it last week but just that extra game helps," Granville told NRL.com.

"I was still a bit tired towards the end of the first half but we had a lot of ball which helped us and our forwards did a great job for us.

"Probably just learnt that the speed of the finals is more intense."

 

In his first full year in the NRL Granville's next assignment is to find a way to quell the influence of the man he – and almost everyone else in rugby league – nominates as the best hooker in the game today.

Twenty-four hours before Granville was caught short against Brisbane, Storm captain Cameron Smith was engineering an upset win over the Roosters that secured his team a much-needed week off and a preliminary final on home turf.

The challenge for Granville and his Cowboys teammates is to show the same kind of calmness under pressure that has become synonymous with the Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos captain throughout his decorated career.

"He's tough and he stays composed. He doesn't get too flustered and just controls the game really well," Granville said of Smith.

"In the intensity of the finals you seem to get a bit flustered but I just try to concentrate on doing my role as best I can for the team because everyone's role's different.

"Every time I see him play he's one to watch. He's the best hooker I think so he'll be dangerous. He's so creative around there and he'll definitely be one to watch."

The laconic former Bronco has assimilated seamlessly into the laidback lifestyle of North Queensland but said he had noticed a change in the energy around town ahead of their home final against the Sharks.

With the Cowboys now in just their third preliminary final in the club's history – and first since 2007 – his dream of playing in an NRL Grand Final is now a step closer to reality.

"I noticed a bit of a change," Granville said of the pre-game build-up.

"Support up here is massive but before training and stuff they'd line up for tickets and we knew we were going to get a big crowd and they were really helpful [on Saturday night].

"To play some regular footy was my main goal but everyone's dream is to play in a grand final and that's all our players' dream and ultimate goal is to get to that GF.

"We've got to do a job this weekend and they're going to be extremely tough down there in Melbourne."