Cowboys brace for unpredictable Warriors
As they prepare to face a New Zealand Warriors team without Shaun Johnson this weekend, the North Queensland Cowboys are ready for every player in the Warriors outfit to lift for the injured playmaker.
The Warriors have been put in the same boat the Cowboys found themselves in this year, having already proved they are still a formidable side after drawing level on points with the top four since Johnathan Thurston's injury.
Their climb up the ladder came from improved performances across the team, especially in terms of leadership and game management from the likes of Scott Bolton and Michael Morgan.
Even without the international playmaker the Warriors are still a star-studded team, and their spine in particular packs a punch with Kieran Foran, Isaac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck all excellent players in their own right.
Centre Kane Linnett is ready for a fired-up New Zealand side, and is eager to avoid an ambush at home like those they received from the Manly Sea Eagles and Wests Tigers earlier in the season.
"They're a hard team to get prepared for, you're not too sure what to expect because they throw the ball around a fair bit and they've got some big blokes in the middle who are quite a handful carrying the ball and have got a lot of offloads in them too," Linnett said.
"They've got plenty of talent in their team and they've got plenty of experience too with [Simon] Mannering… And they played quite well last week but they just fell short so it's going to be a tough game."
Coach Paul Green is eager to have his players take the opposition out of the equation, and is confident that if they perform at their best they'll be ready for the visitors.
The Cowboys have given no one any reason to doubt their consistency and have silenced the critics who believed they couldn't score points without Thurston in the last eight weeks.
"If we worry about our opposition too much any game is a danger game. It's about us, it's about us improving week in week out from here on in. We've had some consistency… so for us it's about making sure we keep improving in those areas," Green said.