5 SECRETS TO VICTORY
NORTH Queensland’s journey over the past month has been quite amazing.
If the Cowboys can land one last knockout punch against the Perfect Storm tomorrow night, it will go down in history as one of rugby league’s great Cinderella stories.
But can it truly be done? Is this Storm juggernaut likely to break down on the big stage?
My head says probably not, but the Cowboys have proved me wrong throughout the finals.
In boxing parlance, they say styles make fights. In this case, the Cowboys are the one team with the tactical style to put the Storm on the canvas.
Here is North Queensland’s blueprint to pull off a premiership boilover, and the five key strategies they must deploy to consign the Storm to back-to-back grand final defeats.
1. BRILLIANT CAM CAN’T BE THE MAN COWBOYS coach Paul Green must give his troops a simple message – don’t let Cameron
Smith run. Don’t give him time and space. North Queensland’s defence can’t switch off for a second on the Storm skipper.
Defensively, Smith will get involved with tackles on Jason Taumalolo and use his experience to slow the ruck down when he hits the ball up.
In attack, they can’t afford to let Smith run riot like he did against NSW in Origin III.
The Cowboys need two markers set and ready every time the Storm play the ball.
It’s easier said than done, but if their ruck is sloppy, Smith will destroy them.
2. MORE TIME FOR TAUMALOLO
There is some thought that Taumalolo should play the full 80 minutes. That would be fraught with danger, but Green should certainly look to extend Taumalolo’s game time.
The Cowboys lose the ascendancy when he is off the field. Last week, the Roosters scored 12 points to the Cowboys’ 0 while he was off recharging his battery. There would be a temptation to leave him out there for the whole game, but his impact would be diluted if you played him for the full 80. Taumalolo played 65 minutes last week but I’d make him play 70 in the grand final. Green must shave five minutes off his rest time and keep his wrecking ball out there a bit longer.
3. OUTSMART BILLY SLATER
One of the key battles will be Michael Morgan’s kicking game, both long and short, versus Billy Slater’s positional play.
Morgan’s kicking game has been exceptional but Billy will have it in his mind to catch as many balls as he can on the full. Morgan’s kicking game last week against the Roosters got them out of trouble and some of his high, swirling kicks have been remarkable. Smith is a critical figure. He will do his best to harass Morgan and put him off his kicking game. The Roosters didn’t put enough pressure on Morgan last week but Smith is too smart and he will come flying out of marker to muzzle Morgan. The Cowboys playmaker nearly executed three 40-20s last week, but Billy is so fit and fast and covers territory better than anyone else. Billy reads play well so it will be fascinating to see if Morgan can find the open spaces.
4. BENCH WARFARE
The Cowboys’ interchange rotation must fire, full stop.
When Nelson AsofaSolomona comes on for Melbourne, he makes a huge impact.
The Cowboys must fight fire with fire off the bench.
People keep talking about the Storm managing Taumalolo but the Cowboys
need to find a way to shut down Asofa-Solomona.
The try he scored against the Broncos last game typified his destructive nature and the Cowboys need to keep an eye on him trying to barge his way over, hitting a Smith pass at speed close to the line.
The Storm have a huge bench and it’s important the unheralded Cowboys forwards like Scott Bolton, Shaun Fensom and Corey Jensen step it up. Coen Hess is the X-factor. He has the size and speed to worry the Storm running lines off Te Maire Martin.
5. SCOREBOARD PRESSURE
The Storm barely have a weakness but I believe one is the impact of scoreboard pressure. They are a side that doesn’t like getting behind on the scoreboard because they aren’t used to being in that position. It’s important the Cowboys start well and quickly, and getting to the front will be a bonus.
But it’s equally vital the Cowboys don’t eventually drop their intensity and implode. Melbourne are the masters of gradually breaking a side psychologically, but if the Cowboys stay in the game at the hour mark, the Storm will start to think they can’t knock this mob over.
If they put the Storm in an uncomfortable space, a fairytale could happen.
TRAP SET: Cowboys Jake Granville and Jason Taumalolo get to grips with Cameron Smith in last year’s qualifying final. Picture: Getty Images
MUST DELIVER: Cowboys forward Shaun Fensom.