Cowboys coach Paul Green says North Queensland's gutsy 15-14 extra time win over the Sharks on Sunday typified the club's season – an against-the-odds win in which they occasionally made life unnecessarily hard for themselves.
Minus Test players Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Justin O'Neill, at a ground where they have an awful record, against the full-strength defending premiers, the Cowboys fell behind 8-0 and 14-6 but produced two separate comebacks to steal an extra-time win and book a semi-final meeting with Parramatta.
"We were never supposed to win that game," Green said.
"Even during the game we created some opportunities that we didn't quite ice. There's plenty of improvement left in us too which is good. Typical of the year we've had, plenty of guts, plenty of character and in the end found a way to win.
"We were supposed to be cannon fodder in the finals. I said to the players, it doesn't matter what everyone else believes, what matters is what we believe."
Green refused to blame the club's horror injury toll for their up-and-down season, insisting the team's spirited performances – including in some of their recent losses – proved they could worry any team.
"When you lose key players it changes the way you have to play and that takes a while to gel," he said.
"Throughout all that we've shown character, we've never rolled over which I'm really proud of the players from that point of view. We've got the belief that we can beat anyone."
Captain Gavin Cooper – leading the team in the absence of co-captains Thurston and Scott – laughed off his own role as being the "Steven Bradbury of captains" and credited the leadership brought by the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan in making his job easier.
Sunday's win over the Sharks was "a pretty big one" in the scheme of gutsiest wins he's been involved in.
"A lot of our boys in that team hadn't played finals, a lot of our group hasn't played finals before so to come down to Sydney with everything stacked against us, no-one's giving us a shot this week, no-one will give us a shot next week but inside our walls if we prepare well and do everything right at training we're in with a shot," Cooper said.
"Our two main leaders have gone down. Jase has stepped up this year, Morgo's developed into one of the real leaders of the team and he has to because he's the one that's leading us around the park. The belief's there."
Green cast an eye ahead to Saturday night's clash with the Eels at ANZ Stadium after Parramatta's impressive performance in a narrow loss to the Storm earlier in the weekend.
"They played well [against Melbourne], plenty of energy, typical of Parramatta when they're at their best," Green said.
"They probably had Melbourne there at different stages of the game but testament to how good Melbourne's season has been they managed to get themselves back and find a way to win but Parramatta's certainly worried them. They'll be tough."