The Courier-Mail

Cow­boys hit panic but­ton far too of­ten

- PAUL MALONE

LACH­LAN Coote has been brave, clever and res­o­lute for the Cow­boys this year, but hope­fully he has learnt now what not to do in a semi-fi­nal.

For all of his courage in de­fence and with kicks in North Queens­land’s in­struc­tive 14-6 loss to Mel­bourne on Satur­day, two of Coote’s choices with the ball when the Cow­boys fell 14-0 be­hind was symp­to­matic of a night where the vis­i­tors be­came frus­trated and pan­icked when con­fronted by the per­cent­age game played ex­pertly by the Storm.

The Storm are not quite the Storm any­more, but on selec­tive days this sea­son, the team in pur­ple and blue has done a damn good im­pres­sion of the old Mel­bourne.

Mel­bourne took a stran­gle­hold on a game played in slip­pery con­di­tions through the qual­ity of their de­fence, which did not al­low one line break, and their pre­cise kick­ing.

For a team that has kind of spe­cialised this sea­son in win­ning games from 18-0 down, the Cow­boys played panic foot­ball in at­tack.

It did not help that the Cow­boys went 60 min­utes with­out a penalty and the Storm twigged that Ori­gin ref­eree Ben Cum­mins had lost in­ter­est in award­ing off­side and ruck penal­ties against them.

Cum­mins whis­tled three penal­ties against Mel­bourne in the first six min­utes and then found they were blame­less over a long stretch in which the home side re­ceived seven penal­ties in a row.

Johnathan Thurston and Coote took a lot of play­mak­ing on their shoul­ders in the ab­sence of the in­jured Michael Mor­gan and it is not easy for coach Paul Green to find a bet­ter way of shar­ing the load.

Coote was lack­ing in patience a long way from full­time in try­ing to land a scor­ing punch.

In the 51st minute, with the Cow­boys down by 14, he popped an off­load which turned the ball over. With still 20 min­utes left, he forced a pass on his 10m, try­ing to free up a kick re­turn.

That Coote pro­duced a trysav­ing tackle on op­po­site num­ber Cameron Mun­ster in the en­su­ing set af­ter the sec­ond er­ror pro­vides just one exam- ple of how he has con­trib­uted to the Cow­boys this year.

Like Coote, Thurston also played in the sec­ond half like a man short of time.

Their frus­tra­tion over a notry call on a first-half try by Kyle Feldt was un­der­stand­able, but the ap­pli­ca­tion of the ob­struc­tion rule has kept league watch­ers on their toes for years now.

Watch­ing the Cow­boys in the sec­ond half in Mel­bourne re­minded me of a sa­lu­tary tale from one of Aus­tralia’s great­est Test mo­ments.

Af­ter the “Mir­a­cle of Old Traf­ford’’ in 1990, the late try run in by Mal Meninga af­ter Ricky Stu­art’s long break, Stu­art told me the rea­son he had been think­ing so clearly.

It stemmed back, he said, to what Raiders coach Tim Sheens used to call their “seven-minute drill’’.

Sheens would get his play­ers that year to fin­ish train­ing with a game of seven-a-side footy for seven min­utes.

It em­pha­sised to the Raiders play­ers how much foot­ball can be played in the fi­nal few min­utes of a game when your side is be­hind. “It teaches you not to panic,’’ Stu­art said.

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