FAN­TAS­TIC

Ec­static faith­ful wel­come tri­umphant Cow­boys home

Townsville Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - JON TUXWORTH jonathon. tuxworth@ news. com. au

COW­BOYS half­back Michael Mor­gan is mobbed by fans on his ar­rival home from Syd­ney yes­ter­day. A big crowd wel­comed their heroes, who belted the Par­ra­matta Eels on Satur­day night to book a berth in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal this week­end.

IT was a re­cep­tion fit for rock stars, but Cow­boys coach Paul Green in­sists his play­ers won’t get dis­tracted by the hype sur­round­ing their fi­nals fairy­tale.

North Queens­land’s heroes were greeted at Townsville air­port yes­ter­day by hun­dreds of rau­cous fans af­ter beat­ing Par­ra­matta in Syd­ney.

The win set up an NRL pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against the Roost­ers on Satur­day in Syd­ney, where the Cow­boys will aim for an up­set in en­emy ter­ri­tory for the third straight week.

Green said fans were start­ing to be­lieve the team was ca­pa­ble of some­thing spe­cial.

“It gives the boys a huge lift to know the city and the com­mu­nity is be­hind them,” he said. “They prob­a­bly didn’t have much hope for us lead­ing into the fi­nals.

“The way the boys have played the last cou­ple of weeks, the be­lief is build­ing within ev­ery­one else. There’s al­ways been strong be­lief within the team, ev­ery­one else is get­ting on board now.”

Green was con­fi­dent back rower Coen Hess would be fit to take on the Roost­ers af­ter in­jur­ing his knee in the first half against the Eels.

Winger An­to­nio Win­ter­stein suf­fered a heavy knock to his ribs but also played on.

“We know he got a knock in the ribs, how bad it is we’ll mon­i­tor it dur­ing the week. He’s a pretty tough char­ac­ter,” Green said of Win­ter­stein.

Green was an as­sis­tant coach to Roost­ers men­tor Trent Robin­son when the Bondi club won the premier­ship in 2013. He joined the Cow­boys as head coach in 2014 and is con­sid­ered a can­di­date to win the Dally M coach of the year for guid­ing his in­jury-af­fected team to the fi­nal four.

“I will be al­ways grate­ful ( to the Roost­ers),” Green said.

“We had a great year that year and ended up win­ning the comp. I played there also ( in 2001 and 2002). I’ve got a lot of re­spect for the club and am good mates with a lot of peo­ple down there.” Green wants his team to soak up the fi­nals fever grip­ping North Queens­land, but was con­fi­dent they wouldn’t take their eyes off the prize.

“It’s not the grand fi­nal but it’s im­por­tant the boys en­joy it and savour the mo­ment for what it is,” he said.

“We’re not get­ting car­ried away, we en­joy com­ing home to a great re­cep­tion but it’s busi­ness as usual.”

COW­BOYS coach Paul Green summed it up when asked if be­com­ing the first team to win the NRL ti­tle from out­side the top four was mo­ti­va­tion.

“No one’s done it be­fore, so why not us?” he said af­ter the team was greeted by hun­dreds of ju­bi­lant fans at Townsville air­port af­ter beat­ing Par­ra­matta in Syd­ney.

As the news­pa­per scribes, TV mag­a­zine shows and ra­dio jocks lined up to write them off, the Cow­boys have put it in the mem­ory bank for fuel.

The Cow­boys can be­come the West­ern Bull­dogs of the NRL. “Why not us?”, the catchcry the Sharks used last year, has been adopted by North Queens­land.

The Bull­dogs came from sev­enth last sea­son to be­come the first team to win the AFL flag from out­side the top four.

North Queens­land are try­ing to be­come the first in the NRL to do so since the cur­rent fi­nals sys­tem was in­tro­duced.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties with the Bull­dogs are eerie. Both teams en­dured a huge in­jury toll to limp into the fi­nals.

The Bull­dogs used the AFL’s new bye week be­fore the fi­nals to get a few key play­ers back and shocked the world by beat­ing West Coast in Perth in the first week.

The 10- day break af­ter the Round 26 loss to Bris­bane was a sim­i­lar god­send for the bat­tered and bruised Cow­boys.

Recharged and re­freshed, they stunned the Sharks on their home turf.

De­spite their bril­liant dis­play against the Ea­gles, the Bull­dogs were given no hope against de­fend­ing pre­miers Hawthorn the next week. They won. The crit­ics un­con­vinced, they were con­sid­ered easy prey for the GWS Giants in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal. They won.

Surely they couldn’t beat the Swans in the grand fi­nal? Some­one for­got to tell them as they broke a 62- year premier­ship drought.

North Queens­land were writ­ten off be­fore Satur­day’s win over Par­ra­matta, but ri­vals with mo­men­tum and self- be­lief are tough foes to over­come.

Cow­boys cap­tains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston are out for the sea­son. They can only watch on.

Now- re­tired Bull­dogs skip­per Robert Mur­phy was also a frus­trated spec­ta­tor as the Bull­dogs cre­ated his­tory at the MCG 12 months ago.

West­ern Bull­dogs men­tor Luke Beveridge is con­sid­ered one of the best young coaches in the AFL. Cow­boys coach Paul Green en­joys sim­i­lar stature in the NRL.

The Cow­boys be­gan the sea­son as an $ 8.50 chance to win a sec­ond premier­ship in three years. They blew out to 101- 1 be­fore the start of the fi­nals, hav­ing lost five of their past six reg­u­lar sea­son games.

Ev­ery­one can say and write what they like. Their be­lief re­mains rock solid.

Pic­tures: ZAK SIM­MONDS

EX­TREMELY PROUD: North Queens­land Cow­boys play­ers re­turned to a heroes’ wel­come in Townsville af­ter their im­pres­sive win against the Par­ra­matta Eels. Above: Satur­day’s Week­end Bul­letin front page.

De­bra Whit­ing with her daugh­ter Chelsea Mee­han, 8.

Sa­man­tha Rhodes with her daugh­ter Sharaye, 5.

Nic Hol­lis with his daugh­ter Tay­lah, 5.

FI­NALS FUN: Cow­boys full­back Lach­lan Coote wears a big smile af­ter Satur­day’s win over the Eels. LEFT: Ja­son Tau­malolo and Coen Hess af­ter the vic­tory. Pic­tures: BRETT COSTELLO

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