Cowboys bracing for Belmore
You just cannot beat suburban footy.
The closeness and intensity of the crowd, the banter, and of course the passion on display from the 17 men in opposition are something veteran Gavin Cooper says the Cowboys feed on… but they haven't been to the Belmore Sports Ground before.
Thursday night's showdown with the Bulldogs at the Canterbury club's spiritual home ground promises to be more than just a throwback to the good old days; it is set to be the most atmospheric game the NRL has seen all year.
The ingredients are all there: the long-awaited return of Johnathan Thurston; the spiritual suburban ground bursting with history; a night-time game on a work day (ensuring the attendance of only the most passionate fans); two big packs with plenty of charisma; and top-four hopes at stake. The only thing missing from a perfect night will be the suspended 'Dogzilla' Sam Kasiano.
North Queensland will cop it from everywhere on Thursday night but Cooper does not just accept the challenge, he relishes it.
"I really like those grounds. We didn't get the win at Leichhardt but really liked playing there because the crowd is a lot more emotional and you can hear the crowd a lot more than you can in those big stadiums where the voices get lost," Cooper said on Monday.
"Everyone likes getting booed by the opposition… well I do. It makes you grow a little bit, plus it really shows how passionate the fans are.
"Some of the surfaces aren't as good in those suburban grounds but to play in those traditional home grounds for some of the clubs is way more special I think. When they're packed out and you can't see any space about and all the noise is there, you can't beat it."
Johnathan Thurston agreed the smaller grounds made for a unique environment.
"The crowd is right on top of you so you can hear them verbally abusing you and things like that," Thurston said.
"It's a hostile environment but it's a challenge for us to go down and see where we're at."
The Cowboys will hit Sydney on Tuesday afternoon – a day earlier than a regular road game travel schedule – but Thurston said the extra day was simply about adopting a finals-like approach.
"If we are playing away [in the finals], I think that will probably be how we'll roll with it – just going down a day early to prepare for the game," he said.
"It's just an early indication that no doubt Thursday night will be semi-final-type footy."