The North Queensland Cowboys have played two distinct halves of football in 2017. The first half was characterised by injuries which led to poor performances and missed opportunities. The second could only be described as a resurgence.
From teetering outside the top eight to drawing level with the top four during an Origin period in which they lost superstar captain Johnathan Thurston to a season-ending shoulder injury, their upturn in form has been impressive.
Fullback Lachlan Coote has shed some light on the exact area where they intended to improve, and the stats give a good indicator of how successful they were.
"Just in the effort department. Our [defence] has been outstanding, the weeks before we'd sort of just been going through the motions and the last six to eight weeks… Everyone's putting in for each other and I think that makes the game a whole lot easier," Coote said.
North Queensland's run metres, attack and defence all improved in their past seven games compared to their first nine of the season.
Another, more elusive, statistic that North Queensland improved in was their percentage of possession over the course of a game, a strong indicator of how they have controlled matches. The Cowboys' control of the game has improved since Round 10, and in every game since then they've had more than 50 per cent of the ball.
The results speak for themselves, with the Cowboys improving defensively, having conceded an average of one less try per game in the second half of their season compared to the first. This has been coupled with their improved attack as their combinations have settled following their run of injuries. The Cowboys have scored an extra try every two games since Round 10, averaging 3.7 per game.
The Cowboys' consistency has also improved, having never scored fewer than two tries in a game after scoring just a single try twice in their first nine matches.
The loss of two marquee players in a season is a deficit many teams would struggle to overcome. Despite the loss of Thurston, the Cowboys still lead the competition for average possession in a game. They're also ranked in the top four for run metres and tries conceded, a testament to the strength of their individual defenders as well as a forward pack that is still formidable despite the absence of Australian Test front-rower Matt Scott.
Added consistency after the Origin period will only help the Cowboys improve as a team, while Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess will have gained nothing but confidence after their stints in the Queensland side.