Townsville Bulletin - - RUGBY LEAGUE - JON TUXWORTH jonathon. tuxworth@ news. com. au

THE Cow­boys have trans­formed from be­ing de­fen­sively flawed to boast­ing the stingi­est brick wall in the com­pe­ti­tion as they look to make a mock­ery of the the­ory they can’t win without Johnathan Thurston.

A sched­uled group re­view af­ter their 26- 6 home loss to Par­ra­matta in round nine, which prop Scott Bolton la- belled after­wards as “em­bar­rass­ing”, has helped the Cow­boys steady the ship in their top- four charge.

Hav­ing con­ceded over 20 points per game in win­ning six of their first 11 matches, the Cow­boys have leaked less than 13 a match in the six matches since, win­ning five.

They have given up fewer points than any other team over that pe­riod and it is forc­ing crit­ics to re­think their be­lief they aren’t pre­mier­ship con­tenders without their cham­pion play­maker.

The Cow­boys gen­er­ally hold a group re­view ev­ery two months and their sit- down af­ter the Eels just hap­pened to fol­low their worst per­for­mance of the year.

They iden­ti­fied ar­eas to im­prove and the play­ing group have backed up their in­tent to fix them with ac­tions.

Their mid­dle third de­fence and con­trol of the ruck were big is­sues early in the sea­son and they have tight­ened up con­sid­er­ably.

Half­back Michael Mor­gan said the will­ing­ness of the play­ers to buy in has been a big fac­tor in the turn­around.

“We had a group re­view af­ter the first few games and spoke about where we were at, and what we wanted to im­prove on,” Mor­gan said.

“We came up with a few short- term goals, had an­other look af­ter the last eight weeks and the im­prove­ment was mas­sive.

“De­fen­sively we’ve im­proved, but we were also able to score more points than the first nine rounds as well.

“It was good we were able to set some goals af­ter a start to the year we weren’t overly happy with.”

Mor­gan ad­mit­ted the is­sues had to be rec­ti­fied if they wanted to give them­selves a bona fide shot at a second pre­mier­ship in three years.

“If we wanted to be se­ri­ous in this com­pe­ti­tion and con­sider our­selves a gen­uine chance, we had to im­prove,” Mor­gan said.

“It was good that ev­ery­one re­ally bought into what we spoke about that day.”

The Cow­boys only sit out­side the top four on for and against, but face one of the tougher runs home of the top­four con­tenders.

Af­ter they host the War­riors to­mor­row night, North Queens­land face four of the top five teams on the lad­der in the Roost­ers ( round 21) Mel­bourne ( round 22), Cronulla ( round 24) and Brisbane ( round 26). The last three of those games are in Townsville and it will give them a solid in­di­ca­tion of their progress be­fore fi­nals.

“It’ll be a tough pe­riod phys­i­cally, along with the trav­el­ling, but it’ll give us a chance to see where we’re at go­ing into the back end of the year,” Mor­gan said.

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