Cowboys welcome Thurston challenge
"I hope they do. Good luck with that."
That was Cowboys coach Paul Green's final message to the Warriors regarding tactics designed to shutdown playmaker Johnathan Thurston ahead of Saturday night's showdown at 1300SMILES Stadium.
Green and Thurston have quite the puzzle to solve ahead of the finals, with the Wests Tigers and Roosters – and even the Parramatta Eels in Round 8 – providing a blueprint to rattling the reigning premiers by rushing the crafty playmaker and playing inside-out, jamming defence.
A constrained and uncomfortable Thurston has not looked like breaking the shackles these past two weeks as defences have taken his time away and the team's typically precise adherence to game plans has gone out the window.
But speaking after Friday morning's captain's run, Green was confident – cocky even – when asked about the likelihood of New Zealand pressuring Thurston in the same vein as the past two weeks.
"I got asked that through the week, so yeah, I hope they do. Good luck with that," Green quipped.
"We've had a good week. We're obviously aware of the challenge ahead of us but we're obviously looking forward to it.
"We've trained well the last couple of weeks. We've probably just lacked on game day to actually raise the bar a bit. But our prep has been pretty good, I thought we've had a pretty good week so far.
"But the real test comes tomorrow night so that's when we will really see where the reaction will come."
The Cowboys' three-game losing streak does not come down to one simple defensive tactic impacting one single player; the entire group, players and coach alike, have admitted that the 'fight' and intensity is down across the board.
While there are no easy games for the rest of the season, the chance of a top-four finish is back in their own hands after the Bulldogs' loss on Thursday, and there are no excuses not to take it.
"There are no easy games from here on in," Green said.
"We play the Bulldogs next week, we play the Titans in Round 26, then it's finals time. If you're looking for an easy game or hoping that the opposition are off their game, it's not going to happen and you're looking for shortcuts.
"I don't think any of us have that mindset but if they do it won't matter what I say or what anyone else says, it's about wanting to find the tough efforts in the game and not hoping for an easy night. It's that time of the year."
Two hits to the back two weeks running have cast doubt over co-captain Matt Scott's fitness going into Saturday night, with the jury out as to whether he suits up.
While the club faces a short turnaround into the do-or-die Bulldogs game next Thursday, Green was intent on having his star bookend on deck this week.
"He's one of our captains, so I'll have a hell of a conversation on my hands if word comes to me saying he's not going to play. Sometimes you have to take the decision out of [the medical staff's] hands and do what's best for the bigger picture," he said.
"I think [he will play], we will see how his back pulls up tomorrow. He had a full week of training; obviously a little bit modified.
"We've got some cover just in case he pulls up sore after today's training session. I'm obviously mindful of the shorter turnaround coming into the Bulldogs game. I'm not going to take any risks with him that I don't have to."