Cowboys need to hit next gear
The level of play that won North Queensland their maiden premiership last season just won't cut it against a league that has gone to the next level in 2016 according to Cowboys prop James Tamou.
While both post-season games against intrastate rivals Brisbane were classics, the Cowboys blew away both of 2016's frontrunners Cronulla and Melbourne in dominant fashion last September.
They were two of the most convincing finals wins for any team in recent years, but Tamou has warned that they need to get even better over the next four weeks.
"I think we will definitely have to pick it up [from last year's level]. Teams, especially Melbourne and Cronulla, have taken it to a new level," he said.
"Comparing it to last year, it's a whole different ball game. To say that we played the same as last year to win [this year's] premiership won't happen. We need to pick it up.
"Top four has always been our year goal and we'll definitely keep ticking away in the finals series.
"But I think playing [like we did against Titans] we will make it hard on ourselves against those other teams. We'll just have to clean it up a bit."
In what is shaping as one of the tightest seasons in history, the Storm and Sharks have been the frontrunners, while the likes of Canberra, Brisbane and Penrith have joined the Cowboys on a late-season charge to the finals.
And Tamou say it all adds to the emotion and sense of occasion, being his last year in the north.
"Absolutely [it adds to the emotion]. There's a lot of emotion for myself riding on it," he said of his move to Penrith.
"It's kind of sad in a way, because myself leaving is just getting closer and closer as we get towards the finals. It will be a sad day when I leave but hopefully I'll go out with a bang."
Weighing in on his side's chances going into the finals, fellow veteran Gavin Cooper says the continuity and familiarity within the group stemming from last year holds them in good stead going into this campaign.
"Our team is very similar to what it was last year, so the boys know what the big games are about. What got it done tonight won't get it done next week.
"The games are bigger, the intensity is greater, the games are faster and there is a lot more on the line so every team plays with more desperation."
The Cowboys will face Melbourne at AAMI Park next weekend, with times yet to be announced.