Battered Cowboys show spirit until the end
An injury-ravaged North Queensland side fought their hardest unitl the very end of the 2017 Telstra Premiership season, with coach Paul Green speaking after the game about the personal sacrifices players made to push through the pain barrier for the sake of their mates.
While much has been made of the long-term absences of stars and co-captains Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) and Matt Scott (knee), a host of other key players have pushed through less serious injuries in a squad that has had few fully fit players in an impressive charge through the 2017 finals series.
"Some of the things the guys have played through with, particularly around injury, has been nothing short of remarkable," Green said after his team's 34-6 Grand Final loss to Melbourne on Sunday night at ANZ Stadium.
"It's hard for me, if I single anyone out it probably doesn't do the whole story justice.
"John Asiata [has a broken] broken hand, Kyle Feldt tore his groin last week. Te Maire Martin should have been out, he had a grade two medial and should have been out for probably four to six weeks and missed one game.
"'Coops' (acting captain Gav Cooper) with his calf, there's four guys that came back in that [Round 25 Wests] Tigers game that probably shouldn't have come back, had one session together.
"Scott Bolton all year has been outstanding but playing busted. He's scared of needles too which is surprising for a pig-hunting fisherman. A guy that scared of needles and has to get needled every week before the game. The way he coped with that. There's been so many stories like that.
"That's what I'm really proud of. No-one made them do that, I didn't make them play, they wanted to.
"If you see the break in Johnny Asiata's hand, he'll be getting an operation on Wednesday to get it fixed. It shows their character but also shows how much they care for the team and each other and that's what made me most proud."
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That the players pushed themselves to those limits is a result of the standards the North Queensland personnel at the club set for themselves, he added.
"The players and staff and everyone involved knew what everyone was putting on the line each week to put a team out. That put some steel in us through the year, which we needed to. We certainly wouldn't be in this position had we not have gone through that."
Asked about his own push through a calf injury, Cooper said it wasn't about him.
"There's plenty more people Greeny didn't mention that have played through some things," Cooper said.
"The word is 'respect', that everyone's got for each other at the club, they're very selfless with what they've done for the team and each other, it shows we care about each other, it shows the respect we've got for each other.
"People keep talking about clubs being a tight knit group or good culture at the club but what we've built over the past three, four, five years while I've been at the club, the way I've seen the club grow, I can't be more proud of the group and I'm proud to be part of the group. That's the way realistically how everyone sees each other."