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RUGBY LEAGUE: “Embrace this feeling, boys.”
That was the crux of Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston’s plea to his teammates as they huddled together on ANZ Stadium after Sunday’s grand final loss.
The Storm used the hurt of their loss to Cronulla in last year’s decider to blow a wounded Cowboys off the park.
And the Cowboys have vowed to use it as motivation to ensure there’s no let down when Thurston, Matt Scott and Storm recruit Jordan McLean bolster next year’s squad.
“In the huddle out on the field that’s what we spoke most about,” Cowboys back rower Coen Hess said.
“Johnno said embrace this feeling boys, and use it as fuel.
“We’ll learn from the mistakes but we’ve learned a lot this year, and if things get tough next year, we can reflect upon these times.”
Twelve Cowboys players that ran out on Sunday featured in the grand final win over Brisbane in 2015.
Only Kane Linnett (Roosters in 2010) and Ben Hampton (Storm in 2016) have tasted grand final defeat before, with Thurston also part of the Cowboys team that lost to Wests Tigers in 2005.
Cowboys coach Paul Green described his players’ resolve in playing on with injuries as “nothing short of remarkable”.
About ten players who took the field on Sunday were carrying niggles. As each player refused to sit, their teammates followed suit.
“We’ve had a huge number of debutants (seven) and huge number of players (32) we’ve used in a season,” Hess said.
“Tonight wasn’t just an effort of the 17 guys who took the field, we have a whole playing group of 35 or more and we’ve had to look to them to help us out.
“That’s been the picture of our whole season, guys have played injured and out of position but that’s just football.
“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. The guys had a job to do, and we fell a bit short.”
Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill played in Melbourne’s 2012 premiership but it didn’t dull the hurt.
“It’s tough either way, we just lost a grand final,” he said.
BURNING DESIRE: Gavin Cooper and Jonathan Thurston. PHOTO: MARK METCALFE / GETTY IMAGES