Crucial clashes in final run- in
THE high- flying Cowboys are wary of a bottom- eight ambush and are desperate to avoid any complacency in a testing run into the NRL finals.
Second- placed North Queensland face five teams from outside the finals positions in their last eight games of the year, but said the results in those clashes are anything but a foregone conclusion.
The next month brings Manly ( 13th), Parramatta ( 12th) Canberra ( 10th) and Cronulla ( 9th) who are all in touching distance of the playoffs despite slow or inconsistent starts to the year.
Monday’s opponents Manly thumped the Gold Coast last week and are playing with their first choice side for the first time this year.
Like the Eels and the Raiders, the Sea Eagles only lost to North Queensland through some get- out- of- jail individual brilliance late in the game while the Sharks are just one of four teams to beat the Cowboys this year.
North Queensland co- captain Matt Scott said the Cowboys’ winning record and best ever position on the NRL ladder coming out of the State of Origin period meant little against teams scrapping to be involved in the finals.
“It’s the best position we’ve been in on the ladder but there is a lot of footy left to play,” Scott said.
“We’re coming up against a few sides, particularly in the next couple of weeks, that are fighting for a spot in the finals.
“We’ve got teams like Manly and the Sharks who are hitting some form.
“We can’t get too carried away with ourselves.”
Hooker Rory Kostjasyn said thinking about minor premierships, top- two finishes or finals this far out would cost the Cowboys.
“If you start looking too far ahead then you don’t concentrate on what you’re doing this week,” he said.
Manly’s 38- 6 win over the Titans saw backs Tom Trbojevic, Jorge Taufua and Brett Stewart all in good form and Cowboys lock John Asiata said his side was under no illusions.
“It will just give them the confidence and a bit of hope,” he said.
Hooker Ray Thompson has been kept back from Blackhawks duties while medical staff are continuing to monitor winger Antonio Winterstein’s pectoral strain.
It’s the best position we’ve been in on the ladder but is a lot of footy left to play
MAIN MAN: North Queensland Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston looks to offload during the Round 6 match against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium earlier this season.