Top four still the goal for Cowboys
Having come through a State of Origin period categorised by tough wins and even tougher losses, the North Queensland Cowboys are confident they can still make the coveted top four by the end of Round 26.
They'll need to continue to improve in their performances if they're to get through the log jam from fourth to sixth place on the NRL ladder, with the Manly Sea Eagles, Brisbane Broncos and Cowboys all sitting on 24 competition points.
The Sea Eagles are in the box seat, with their for-and-against of +75 points getting them past the Broncos and Cowboys on +56 and +43 respectively.
But North Queensland's utility Ben Hampton is confident the Cowboys will be able to go on with the momentum they gained over the Origin period, despite a season-ending injury to skipper Johnathan Thurston.
"I think the last six weeks of footy before our bye we've really stepped forward and a couple of boys like 'Morgs' (Michael Morgan) and Scott Bolton have really stepped up and they're leading us around the park," Hampton said.
"'Coops' (Gavin Cooper) is another one. He's taken on our captaincy and he's doing a really good job. Everyone's refreshed and ready to go."
The all-important home semi-final will be in the Cowboys' sights as the make their charge for the finals, and given no team since the start of the NRL has won the competition from outside the top four they'll have stiff competition for a coveted spot.
Their job is made more difficult by the consistency of the Melbourne Storm, Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters. With Melbourne clear leaders on 28 points and the Sharks and Roosters taking positions two and three on 26 points, the odds are good that at least two of those three teams will finish in the top four, leaving only two positions up for grabs in a best-case scenario.
Fullback Lachlan Coote is confident North Queensland have the team and the momentum to make a play for the top four, but stressed the importance of consistency if the Cowboys are to make it.
"I back the boys for us to get up there in that top four if we keep rolling the way we are. We've just got to keep making those extra efforts, working hard for each other in defence and hopefully that will take care of itself," Coote said.
"We've got to believe in our depth, and we've got some good players coming up and 'Greeny' (coach Paul Green) is doing a good job with the new guys coming in and getting them up for games."
"I think with 'Morgo' stepping up there and being a ball player he's doing an outstanding job at the moment and hopefully he can keep leading us."