Coote's 'rocks and diamonds' performance
Cowboys coach Paul Green has repeatedly asked for more involvement from his strike fullback in the second half of the year, and Lachlan Coote certainly gave him that on Friday night.
Coote packed a year's worth of football in 90 minutes against the Broncos, yet a bulk of those moments won't exactly feature in the highlights package.
He dropped an easy kick retrieval, let two catchable high balls hit the ground, threw a forward pass and of course, stumbled and fumbled trying to reel in Darius Boyd's grubber kick as Jordan Kahu pounced for a try on the stroke of half-time.
There were rocks, but there were also diamonds: a couple of tackle-beating kick returns to get his side on the front foot late in the game, a desperate save on the left touchline to keep Kalyn Ponga's wild flick pass alive, and a try-save on Boyd on the opposite touchline less than two minutes into the second half.
Coote is one of the NRL's most powerful defenders at any position for his size, and while he single-handedly gave the Broncos a handy buffer going into the break, he also single-handedly kept the Cowboys in the game with that try-save.
Had he not put his body on the line, Kahu would have been lining up a conversion to put his side up 20-6.
Coote's rollercoaster game was undoubtedly one of his worst all year, but it reiterated one of the most important lessons in finals footy – perseverance – and it puts him in good stead for this week's preliminary final against Cronulla.
"It was rocks and diamonds pretty much. There were a few little errors I made there, and I was really disappointed and felt like I really let down the boys in that time. It was nice to see them step up and help me out," he told NRL.com.
"There's not really any training in it. You've just got to tell yourself to keep flushing that negative play," he said of the mental preparation required to move on from errors.
"Obviously it's in the back of my mind that I made those errors, but I obviously hadn't cost the game at half-time. You just try and do your best to get back in the game and do your job."
The errors were out of character for a fullback widely regarded as one of the NRL's safest, but the 26-year-old says he was not feeling any added pressure from the occasion or the debut of Ponga – who looms as a future threat to Coote's post at the back.
While slight of frame, Ponga was sensational on debut in such a big game, showing both the dazzling footwork that has the rugby league public salivating and genuine courage to take on Brisbane's defensive line despite their physical superiority.
Coote said he did not feel the pressure of Ponga's debut, but admitted to always having the youngster in the back of his mind.
"There weren't many nerves, I felt the same and confident like every other week," he said.
"[Ponga] held his own, for a big game to be thrown in like that he did better than good.
"There are always players coming up through the ranks and I was the same when I was coming into my debut. I had Rhys Wesser in front of me and I was the young guy. That's part of footy.
"There's always the thing in the back of your head going, 'this young guy is coming for my spot', but I'm not worried. I'm proud of him.
"His footwork is unreal. I didn't know where he was going [on his first-half line break]. I obviously got in his way a bit, but I didn't know where to go when he was stepping around like that."
Coote openly rode the wave of speculation around his Origin selection earlier this year, and went missing to some extent after the reality of not making the Blues side had hit him.
But Cowboys fans can take solace from the fact that in one of his darkest days, one of the most important ingredients to North Queensland's title defence kept his head high and is not shying away from the moment.
Game on. Data off.
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