A KICK­START TO GLORY

Near miss the cat­a­lyst as Cow­boys dream of fairy­tale

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - ROBERT CRAD­DOCK PETER BADEL EDITORIALP60

IT WAS close to 11pm on the night of Au­gust 31 and the lights had dimmed on the North Queens­land Cow­boys in ev­ery pos­si­ble way.

A 20-10 loss to the Bron­cos in Townsville in their fi­nal home-and-away game had left the Cow­boys all but shunted out of the com­pe­ti­tion.

Book­mak­ers of­fered 100-1 odds of them be­ing pre­miers and con­sid­ered any­one bold enough to take it was throw­ing away their money.

But in the shad­ows, one man could sense a gi­ant stir­ring. Cow­boys coach Paul Green was walk­ing in near­dark­ness be­hind the club dress­ing rooms when a vis­it­ing jour­nal­ist of­fered con­do­lences about the loss and was sur­prised by the re­ply.

“The thing is,’’ Green noted with the mixed tone of a man feel­ing op­ti­mism and re­gret in equal mea­sure, “we are so close to get­ting right. So close. We can win this com­pe­ti­tion if only we can just get the chance’’.

But that chance seemed gone. The Cow­boys’ sea­son would have been over if the Dragons beat the Bull­dogs two days later. How­ever, an up­set Bull­dogs win cat­a­pulted the Cow­boys into the fi­nals with the mind­set of a punter given free chips to bet with at the casino. Ev­ery player has a dif­fer­ent story to a mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion that turned the Cow­boys’ sea­son.

For cap­tain Gavin Cooper it was the sim­ple ex­hil­a­ra­tion of reach­ing the fi­nals after ini­tially not even both­er­ing to watch most of the Bull­dogsDragons game.

“I was hav­ing fish and chips with my boys, and my wife, for Fa­ther’s Day,’’ Cooper said.

“I checked the score with 15 min­utes to go and thought I’d bet­ter watch the last lit­tle bit on my phone. “It’s a funny af­ter­noon when your fate is rest­ing in some­one else’s hands. That was the first lit­tle bit of luck we’ve had this year and we’ll run with it.”

Within 24 hours, Cooper had rushed to Syd­ney for the cap­tain’s fi­nals launch and de­cided his team would live by the mantra “why not us?’’ dur­ing its fi­nals cam­paign.

For goal­kick­ing back­rower Ethan Lowe, the water­shed mo­ment came be­fore the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against the Eels when he had sev­eral dis­as­trous prac­tice goal kicks that wob­bled off his boot as if they were struck by a drunken sailor.

Dis­as­ter beck­oned, but then came the com­fort­ing voice of side­lined goal­kick­ing great Johnathan Thurston, who pro­vided a few in­stant tips that helped Lowe kick four from four later that day.

“I had a cou­ple of shock­ers (in prac­tice),’’ Lowe told the Play­ers Voice web­site.

“They missed by miles. At

that point, you’re usu­ally iso­lat­ing in your mind what went wrong and try­ing like hell to make sure you don’t re­peat those mis­takes in a live game sit­u­a­tion.

“That’s mag­ni­fied even more in a knock­out game.

“For­tu­nately for me, I had one of the great­est pres­sure kick­ers in his­tory watch­ing me.’’

For the gifted Michael Mor­gan, the turn­ing point, not sim­ply in his sea­son but his ca­reer, came in April when Cooper Cronk, iron­i­cally his op­po­nent to­mor­row, sat him down and told him it was time for him to be bold and un­leash the stronger voice within him. Take charge. Lead the way. Be the man. “I went away from that chat and just sort of said I’ve got to pull my fin­ger out a bit,’’ said Mor­gan, whose game has since surged to strato­spheric heights.

Mor­gan could not be more of a Cow­boy if he rode on to the ground on a wild steer. He was raised within eye­shot of the Cow­boys home­ground and at match nights was al­lowed to watch the pre-match fire­works be­fore head­ing to bed. Now he pro­vides the fire­works him­self and, if he can pro­vide them in Syd­ney to­mor­row for an up­set win, it will be one of the great­est days of his life.

THEIR RODEO: Gavin Cooper was en­joy­ing Fa­ther’s Day with his fam­ily when he re­alised the Cow­boys were in the fi­nals; the team had lost its last reg­u­lar sea­son game to the Bron­cos 20-10; but coach Paul Green still be­lieved the Cow­boys could win if they just had a chance.

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