Cowboys ready for weight of great expectations
After a giant-killing run to last year's NRL grand final with Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston watching on from the coaches box, the North Queensland Cowboys already have a target painted on them.
Heading into the 2018 Telstra Premiership, the Cowboys are fit and firing again, including their star co-captains, and they have added Melbourne Storm prop Jordan McLean to make an imposing roster even stronger.
Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill missed out on World Cup selection for Australia after only returning to the field for the finals last year, and he is eager to return to his best after a season that was literally hamstrung by injuries.
"I've been able to get a full pre-season under my belt, I've come back in pretty good [condition], to be able to get the K's in my legs and really work on a lot during this pre-season," O'Neill said.
"[My focus] is to take the way I finished off last year and to build on that and be able to hopefully maintain that level that we finished at last year and be able to improve on a few little things."
Target or not, O'Neill feels the desire to go all the way after falling short in the premiership finale is undoubtedly an asset.
"I think last year was probably a very disappointing way to finish the year, and it was such a grind towards the back end of the year," the centre said.
"I think that's going to be something that's going to be burning in the bellies of the boys that played last year in that GF and if we can use that and take that into 2018 that will stir the boys on I think."
Hooker Jake Granville is confident external expectations won't change anything in the eyes of his teammates.
"I suppose there is a bit of outside pressure [but] we always expect ourselves to play as good as we can and improve each week," Granville said.
"We'll just keep training hard in this off-season and it will be a trial next week, so well be preparing for that and go in and see how we go."