Taumalolo surprised by Cowboys' character
They have shown character beyond what Jason Taumalolo could have expected and the star forward believes it can be enough to lift the Cowboys to a win over the Sharks on Saturday night and keep their finals hopes alive.
Despite brave efforts the Cowboys have lost their past three games and have dropped to eighth on the ladder, needing at least one win over the final three weeks of the regular season to qualify for the finals.
Starting with the Sharks at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night, the Cowboys face the Wests Tigers (away) and the Broncos (home) to round out their season and Taumalolo told NRL.com that the courage they have displayed in recent weeks can carry them into September.
There have been more changes this week given the injury to Justin O'Neill against the Panthers allowing Kalyn Ponga to make a long-awaited return and Taumalolo said the efforts of the younger players coming into a team decimated by injuries have exceeded his expectations.
"Obviously it's not the sight you want to see, watching players go down every weekend, but the boys have shown true character and stayed in the tough games that we've played over the weeks and that's a show of true character from their behalf. I'm pretty proud of the boys," Taumalolo said.
"I still had belief in the boys even when the captains (Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston) weren't here.
"To lose even more players and be in the situation we're in where we're using a lot of younger players that have barely played any first grade and still go out there and play their hearts out is all we can ask of them.
"They've exceeded my expectations of how we'd actually go [with so many injuries]."
As soon as Scott went down in Round 2 with a season-ending knee injury many experts ruled the Cowboys out of premiership contention, calls that grew louder when Thurston was forced to have shoulder surgery that ended his season in late June.
Patrick Kaufusi (foot) and Ben Spina (biceps) followed and the team that turns out against the Sharks will also be minus Maroons back-rower Gavin Cooper and Test winger Antonio Winterstein, O'Neill and Shaun Fensom.
It's the worst injury toll the club has experienced since coach Paul Green joined ahead of the 2014 season and the response to the adversity by the larger playing group is testament to the closeness of the playing group.
"That's a show of our club culture," said Taumalolo.
"When you put on that jersey you're obviously expected to play the best footy you can play and they've been doing that.
"The results haven't been going our way but they've still been going out there and playing their hearts out.
"A lot of boys are good mates and what's even better is that we've been together for a while. Every year we probably have one or two new players coming in but the majority of boys here are a mainstay and have been here for a while.
"They enjoy each other's company and the belief that they have in each other to go out there and believe we can win any game every weekend.
"The trust and belief that the boys have in each other are the main things and obviously the reasons why the boys play the way they are even though we're down a few players."
The Sharks ended the Cowboys' season last year and were victorious 18-14 when the two teams met in Round 11 but Taumalolo is confident North Queensland can prevent Cronulla from recording a fourth straight win in the head-to-head record.
"I believe in whoever steps up and puts on the jersey on the weekend that they will do the job," said the 24-year-old.
"I have 100 per cent belief in all the boys that play on the weekend that we can beat the Cronulla outfit.
"Although they're premiers and there's a reason why they are I definitely think we can upset them on the weekend with whoever puts on the jersey."