It’s a fair bet that no one in the Cowboys camp will be looking past Sunday’s clash with Wests Tigers but given their rich vein of form and growing self-belief they could be forgiven for taking a glance ahead to the round 11 showdown with the Storm in Townsville.
Should Todd Payten’s make it five straight wins for the first time since early in 2016 by beating the Wests Tigers they will head home on May 21 on a high and ready to match motors with the NRL’s benchmark team.
For experienced prop Jordan McLean the clash with Melbourne has extra significance given he won a premiership in 2017 in his final game for the club before joining the Cowboys.
But before he gets to renew acquaintances with the Bromwich brothers and Nelson Asofa-Solomona in Townsville, it’s the Tigers big men James Tamou, Alex Twal and Stefano Utoikamanu who are dominating McLean’s thoughts.
“The last four weeks have been going along really well but we’re definitely not getting ahead of ourselves,” McLean said.
Wests Tigers v Cowboys
“We started well last week [against Newcastle] and then we went through a little patch where we got a bit scrappy with ill-discipline so we’re just trying to be disciplined and get through our sets for the 80 minutes.”
Now in his 10th season in the NRL, the 30-year-old has been a key figure in the Cowboys’ resurgence in 2022, churning out 109 metres per game to help lay the platform for the likes of Val Holmes, Scott Drinkwater and Kyle Feldt to flourish.
The former Test front-rower has averaged in excess of 100 metres a game in all five seasons at the Cowboys but he’s adamant the focus is on quality over quantity.
“I don’t go into games thinking about how many metres I run in a game — that’s not my focus,” McLean said.
“If I can get a quick play the ball for the speed men in our team that’s my focus, we’ve got danger outside so as long as I’m defending well and taking my hit-ups I don’t focus on metres.
“It’s easy to do my job with the whole team going so well.”
Another Cowboy doing his job and making a huge impression is Reuben Cotter, whose barnstorming performances since shifting from hooker to the middle have seen him touted as a Maroons Origin bolter.
The 23-year-old Mackay product is playing big minutes for Payten and his enormous work-rate has him punching out 37 tackles every week and running for 125 metres a game.
“The way the boys are gelling is really pleasing,” Cotter said.
Cowboy Cotter's defensive performance highlighted
“Our training sessions are intense, everyone is ripping in, we build during the week and the results are showing.
“There’s a good feeling around the place and the community really gets around us. We haven’t felt like this for a few years.
“It’s a more simplified role I’ve got now - run hard and tackle hard and keep moving.
“We have Robbo [Reece Robson] playing good footy at hooker and Jake Granville so it only helps my case being able to play a couple of positions in the team.
Quick fix: Cowboys v Knights
“Origin would mean everything to me, it’s one of my goals, but I try not to focus on outside noise. It’s nice to hear those things but I just want to do my job.”
Much like the Storm in round 11 and even a trip to Penrith to face the premiers a week later, Origin speculation takes a back seat on Sunday as the Cowboys remain laser focused on an unpredictable Tigers outfit.
Get that job done, make it five straight for the first time in six years, and only then will the Storm warning be sounded.