Young Cowboys key to title defence
Cowboys assistant coach David Furner has challenged the team's young premiership-winners to defy any notion of the dreaded second-year syndrome and lift their team to even loftier heights in 2016.
With the end to the gruelling aspect of pre-season training now in sight focus will soon shift to how that translates to the field with the Cowboys to face grand final combatants Brisbane in a trial in Bundaberg as well as taking part in the Downer NRL Auckland Nines next weekend.
From there the Cowboys will face the Townsville Blackhawks in a trial game on Thursday, February 11 and then fly out to England for the World Club Challenge against the all-conquering Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Stadium on February 21.
Recent history suggests that it is impossible for an NRL team to win premierships in successive seasons but Furner believes that the key to not only matching last year's performance but improving on it lies in the squad's younger brigade.
Jason Taumalolo, Michael Morgan, John Asiata and Kyle Feldt all won a premiership before their 24th birthday and rather than any sort of letdown, Furner is confident that early success will make them even hungrier for more.
"It's very interesting for players who at such an early age get an opportunity to play in a grand final, it's how they respond the next year," Furner said.
"I know there is a term about the second-year syndrome but basically for me and the coaches it's all about preparation for the second year.
"We can build a lot of confidence off what the team were able to achieve last year.
"We're not so much looking at defending [the premiership], it's about becoming better.
"Players like Johnny Asiata and Jason Taumalolo who have played in semi-finals and now a grand final, it does make them hungrier to try and get that success again.
"I think the team is in that sort of position but we know that there are another 15 teams in the same sort of mindset."
Brought into the team in Round 4 when the Cowboys were sitting at 0-3, Asiata didn't miss a game for the rest of the season as the Cowboys won 20 of 25 games, culminating of course with their gripping extra-time grand final triumph over the Broncos.
Pleased to have achieved some personal bests in the pre-season – including breaking five minutes for the 1.2 kilometre time trial – the skilful back-rower said that a greater level of fitness is the key to getting more out of his own game.
"There are always places in my game that I need to get better and fitness is one of them," Asiata said.
"Being able to go repeat sets and back-to-back, being able to defend the extra set if we make an error. That's probably the one part of my game that I really want to improve this year.
"Everyone has trained real hard and everyone is a lot fitter than last year, especially in the shorter time that we've had in pre-season.
"Three weeks is not a long time to get fit but the stuff that we've done and credit to our training and coaching staff for getting us ready for the season."
Given the later start to their pre-season the Cowboys high performance staff have pushed the playing group to their absolute limits in the searing North Queensland heat as the coaching staff guard against any sense of complacency creeping in.
"For someone like Johnny who had a full year last year, managed to finish off with a grand final ring, it's very important for those players to understand why they were playing good footy in that year and part of that is preparation," Furner said.
"If they have a good preparation they should have a similar year if not better for the experience of those semi-final games."