72-1: The stunning scoreline involving the Storm and Cowboys
If North Queensland Cowboys supporters are wondering why the club has never hosted a grand final qualifier in Townsville, NRL.com can reveal one compelling statistic that highlights why.
Taking just the last 10 years into account, the Cowboys have been on top of the Telstra Premiership for just one week. That was after round nine in 2016.
Compare that to the record of their opponents on Thursday night, the Melbourne Storm.
In the last decade the Storm have been on top of the table for 72 weeks, hosted six grand final qualifiers and played in five grand finals.
The Storm are the bankers of the NRL, depositing wins in their premiership account each week. Those victories pay dividends come September.
The Cowboys are the competition’s gamblers, often losing games they shouldn't and then chasing those losses at the back end of the year.
That said, the men from Townsville are good at it. Last year they scraped into the top eight and spent the next month on a road trip that ended with a grand final appearance.
In 2015 they became the third team in the history of the game, along with Newtown (1933) and South Sydney (1953), to have lost their opening three games of a season and won the premiership.
Comparing the Storm and the Cowboys on the benchmark of leading the competition, and what that ultimately means in the finals, is of note because both teams do plenty of travel during the year, although the Cowboys have a far tougher time of it in that regard.
Match: Storm vs Cowboys
Round 3 -
Venue: AAMI Park
- Nine Network
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- LIVE PASS
Take their trip to Melbourne this week as an example. The Cowboys left on Tuesday, two days before the game, because there are no direct flights to Melbourne.
The squad arrived at Townsville airport at 10.30am on Tuesday and checked into their Melbourne hotel at 7pm after catching a connecting flight in Brisbane. Each time an aeroplane change is required the Cowboys leave two days before game day.
Which brings us back to why it is so important for the Cowboys to not drop too many games in the regular season.
"The Storm are a team we can take some lessons from," Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein told NRL.com.
"The way they started the  season was phenomenal, so we can steal a page out of their book and hopefully win more competition games because it is tough travelling down to Sydney and playing knock-out footy."
"It would be good to have a preliminary final up here. It would be good for the community and our fans.
"We have a strong fan base here in North Queensland, and fans that drive up from Mackay to make the games, so it would be awesome for them to bring big time footy here."
The Cowboys are now a powerhouse club and the only one in the NRL to play in the last seven finals series, after missing finals football the previous three seasons.
Of the 17 finals they played during that period just four were at home, but in a tribute to the quality and character of the players they've managed to win nine of them.
The Storm played 14 home finals in the same period out of 23 finals matches in total, but with five of those being compulsory grand finals in Sydney.
The finale to the two clubs' respective seasons is a reflection of what has gone on before.
Former Cowboys star Brent Tate agreed that it was hard to survive on the road week-after-week in the pressure cooker of finals football.
"If you can get those wins at the start of the season it makes a huge difference to the psyche and the way you play games at the back end of the season for sure," he said.
"To host a home semi-final and then a preliminary final, given the really good record we have up here, would be massive for us."
Tate is confident the Cowboys have the ability to go far in the competition this year, while agreeing with Winterstein that banking more regular season wins would make their finals task, not easy, but at least less of a challenge than it has been.
"That is why Melbourne are the benchmark, because they win those games week after week and they have done it for a long time," he said.