Green forgives the impatience of youth
They were at the heart of much of what the Cowboys did well on Saturday night but North Queensland coach Paul Green knows that the injection of youth in recent weeks also brings with it a lack of consistency.
After two years of relatively little changes to their regular 17, the Cowboys have been hit hard by injuries in the opening weeks of the Telstra Premiership with Matt Scott, Lachlan Coote, Justin O'Neill and Antonio Winterstein all missing from the Titans clash along with the suspended Jason Taumalolo.
In their place have come a teenager and a bunch of 20-somethings who, while prone to moments of brilliance, are also still coming to terms with the consistency required across 80 minutes and week-to-week in the NRL.
Eighteen-year-old Kalyn Ponga was sensational in his second game at fullback, 20-year-old Coen Hess turned the tide with two barnstorming efforts for tries late in the second half and 20-year-old Gideon Gela-Mosby scored a wonderful solo try on debut that put the Cowboys back in front six minutes from half-time.
All told, there were six players 23 years of age or younger in the Cowboys' 17 against Gold Coast and Green said his side's performances have been patchy as a result, seething that they conceded two late tries in their 32-26 win.
"You see them as young guys and you can see the potential in them but it's really rewarding for everyone when you see them actually fulfil that potential," a pleased Green said post-game.
"They're not there yet either, they know they've got a little way to go and that's probably indicative of how we played as a team.
"We were patchy, and as young guys that's part of that learning process of developing into an NRL player. How to be consistent, how to make sure you're on in the right areas of the game for the whole game.
"While we've got the team we do at the moment we're going to get some patchy performances at times so we just need to be a little bit more consistent with the good stuff, and there was plenty of it out there tonight."
Desperate to bounce back after an uncharacteristic performance against a spirited Manly team a week ago, the Cowboys delivered close to the perfect half of football in the opening 40 minutes against the Titans, completing 17 of 18 sets and leading 10-0 early before taking a 20-12 advantage into half-time.
Their start to the second half was not nearly as polished but the greatest disappointment from Green's perspective was tries to Dale Copley and Daniel Vidot in the final five minutes that reduced the winning margin to just six points.
"Really disappointed with the last two tries. Probably blew the scoreline out; I thought 32-16 would have been a nice win for us," Green lamented.
"It's always good to get a win don't get me wrong, but that just took the gloss off it a little bit, just a couple of soft tries at the end."
With such an inexperienced backline Johnathan Thurston was at his brilliant best, scoring the first try himself, laying on another for Ponga just prior to half-time and giving the last pass for Hess to crash over and score his second try in the 71st minute.
But far from getting carried away by their third win of the season that moved them into third on the Telstra Premiership ladder, Thurston too was disappointed by their lapses in the dying stages.
"The last two tries probably took the gloss off a pretty good performance," Thurston said.
"We're always trying to better ourselves and be better as a team. Everyone is saying the right things out there, we just need to come up with the play and execute defensively."