Cowboys' minds are on the job
He was the consultant who helped reverse North Queensland's fortunes at the start of last year, and it turns out Brisbane-based sports psychologist Cliff Mallett never left.
One of Australia's first professors of sports coaching (as of January this year), and a long-time contact of Cowboys head coach Paul Green, Dr Mallett has checked in with the Cowboys playing group periodically throughout 2016 and has again been credited with helping to change their season's trajectory.
The discernible dip in form from early August had many – including players – doubting the club's ability to win back-to-back premierships. But as prop James Tamou told NRL.com, they turned it around through simply talking.
"[Mallett's] message was more about him getting us to challenge each other; more to get us talking," he said.
"Obviously there are a few quiet guys in the group and it's just all about us getting talking and having to talk about what needs to be done, whether it be one thing or another, and that's basically what that meeting was about.
"I think it had something to do with [the return to] form.
"When you have a couple of losses in a row you start thinking something needs to change, and when he came in I definitely think he had something to do with it.
"I think he will have a lot to do with the team in times to come. It can only get better from there."
Dr Mallett has covered a few things with the playing group in visits across the year, including leadership and mental preparation for games, with a lot of the messages appearing to centre around helping players translate their view of individual obligation to acts of camaraderie as a way of strengthening personal bonds within the group.
"When you come into training it's all about 'footy, footy, footy', but he comes in and sort of takes a different look at it, a different dynamic and changes your thinking a bit," Tamou said.
"He talked about how you see each other as teammates and stuff like that. It's really good, it's refreshing.
"It's about a whole-team aspect on the field and off the field. Off the field you're doing other stuff for them that you wouldn't even think of, you're just helping them out with little things.
"If you do that there, then on the field it sort of transitions and you do it [subconsciously]. He brought up a good point that if you didn't, you'd sort of look at it and go, 'well we'll get back onside' or 'make the next tackle' kind of thing, so that's one of the biggest things I've taken away from it.
"When that was first talked about, you could tell it was pretty different. Everyone was being overly nice, but now it just comes second nature."
That bond is needed now more than ever for a Cowboys side that has been truly affected by injury for the first time since right centre Tautau Moga suffered a season-ending injury early last year.
Back-rower Ethan Lowe's work ethic has set a tone for the group and the big-game experience of veteran winger Antonio Winterstein will be sorely missed.
If the Cowboys do show the fortitude to band together and prevail over the Broncos on Friday night, it will go down as one of the greatest wins in club history.
Game on. Data off.
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