Cowboys finally reaping rewards: Green
The North Queensland Cowboys are finally earning some benefits from a tough closing to the regular season in which they won just one of six games during an awful injury crisis but fought hard to stay in every game.
Plenty of clubs and players speak of a 'never-say-die' approach but no-one quite embodies it as thoroughly as the Cowboys, who become the first club under the current finals system to make a preliminary final from eighth position.
Speaking after his side's clinical 24-16 disposal of the more-fancied Eels at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, Cowboys coach Paul Green said he knew his team would play well because of the consistent improvement he had seen since they started to enjoy some more team stability with the injuries easing up.
"What you're seeing out on the field now is a result of what we've been through for a couple of months," Green said.
"It hasn't just happened in the last week. I kept saying to them, hang in there boys, our luck will turn. I'm sure they were questioning that at some stage and I'm not saying we're finished yet either but that's probably the most enjoyable thing, that they've stuck to the task and they've been committed to it and they're playing for each other and it shows out on the field.
"I'm really enjoying seeing what the players have been through and finally getting a bit of reward for the effort we've put in."
Green said he knew if the team played to its strengths they could worry Parramatta, and the same will hold true next week against a Roosters team that the Cowboys weren't far away from beating in a narrow 22-16 loss in Round 21.
"I was confident we'd play well because our game had been slowly improving," he said.
"We'd finally got some consistency in the last month or so with the team which allowed us to be able to improve our game. That's what gave me the confidence. I know the players are committed, I know they believe and that's the important part.
"I said all along our game was good enough, the evidence was there to prove that. We just weren't doing it for long enough. I knew if we could do it more consistently in games we can beat anyone."
As was the case in their win over Cronulla last week, the current on-field leaders for North Queensland – players like Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo – were immense. Those two continue to admirably fill the rather large gap left by injured pair Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.
There were plenty of big plays from other players too – a long-range chase from Ethan Lowe to effectively deny the Eels two points; John Asiata's maiden try which also came from a determined chase. All up there were three try-saves for the Cowboys against none for Parramatta.
"That's part of how our game has evolved throughout the year," Green said.
"We've had to overcome incredible adversity for different reasons throughout the year but if you're not put into those situations you don't get better. That's the result of it.
"[Morgan] is one of the guys that's really developed for us this year. For us to be where we are, guys like him, Jason Taumalolo, some of the other younger guys needed to take that step, they needed to develop for us to be as competitive as we have been and it's really pleasing to see.
"Morgs has embraced the challenge, he's not shying away from it, he's becoming the player we all know he can be. He's starting to believe that."