Cru­cial clashes in fi­nal run- in

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - LIAM BUT­TER­WORTH liam. but­ter­worth@ news. com. au

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

MATT SCOTT

Pic­ture: GREGG POR­TE­OUS

MAIN MAN: North Queens­land Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston looks to off­load dur­ing the Round 6 match against South Syd­ney at ANZ Sta­dium ear­lier this sea­son.

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