It was standing room only at Townsville airport on Thursday as hundreds of the Cowboys' most dedicated supporters congregated to greet the side as they jetted off to decide their Preliminary Final fate in Melbourne.
Only once per year does the Townsville airport terminal come alive to this extent – and it is always in the month of September.
North Queensland players mixed with fans and posed for photos in the festive atmosphere; but players, fans and coaches alike know that this is the proverbial calm before the storm on Saturday night.
For four-straight years the club has returned to a more disappointed public gallery after road defeats to Manly in 2011 (week one) and 2012 (semi-final), Cronulla in 2013 (week one) and the Roosters in 2014 (semi-final).
But despite failing to win a single finals game away from home since they made the grand final in 2005 (a 24-16 victory over Melbourne at Allianz Stadium), Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston says his side goes in confident of getting back to the grand final a decade after their maiden berth.
“Yeah [we are confident], it was a step in the right direction for us last week and we need to continue that momentum,” he said.
“We’re coming up against a forward pack that’s probably one of the best in the game and they are led around the park by the number one hooker in the game [Cameron Smith] and someone like Cooper Cronk.”
The Cowboys star is the red-hot favourite to win a record fourth Dally M medal after blitzing the competition in both try assists (30) and line-break assists (29) in 2015, two stats indicative of a champion playmaker.
But in the most intriguing halves battle of the season to date, Thurston deflected attention away from himself to heap praise on his Origin halves partner, who he says is the game’s premier player in sticking to a plan.
“You can’t really put him off his game, he’s just too astute with everything that he does,” Thurston said.
“There’s no one like him that can execute a game plan, so it’s just about trying to limit his opportunities.
“It’s the same with ‘Smithy’; their kicking game is second to none.”
“They know how to win big games and they have no AFL down there so it’s all purple pride for them and no doubt it will be a sold-out crowd and they will be confident of getting the job done.
“It’s a tough ask for us to go down there and get the chocolates but this is the challenge you want heading into the grand final.
“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best and no doubt Melbourne are the best."