Cowboys daring to dream
A couple of months ago they were $101 outsiders but North Queensland are daring to dream of the greatest premiership upset in NRL history.
The underdog Cowboys are just 80 minutes away from the unlikeliest of grand final berths and have declared themselves capable of continuing their giantkilling streak in Saturday’s preliminary final against the Sydney Roosters.
Melbourne will host Brisbane on Friday to decide the first berth in the big show on October 1.
After pipping reigning premiers Cronulla in a golden point thriller, the Cowboys brought Parramatta’s fairytale season to a crashing halt with a 24-16 semi-final victory at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
On match-eve coach Paul Green described the Eels as ‘‘certainties’’ and revelled in the fact his side were continually being written off.
The Cowboys scraped into the finals in eighth and only after Canterbury upset St George Illawarra in the final round.
After being widely dismissed by the bookies and punters, their dream remains alive heading into week three of the finals.
Asked if they could upset the Roosters, Green said: ‘‘Yes.
‘‘I think we’ve got some smart players, we’ve got some physical players, we can mix it with any team.
‘‘And we’ve proven that through those losses [over the last six weeks of the regular season].
‘‘In different parts of those games, we were worrying teams. Even though we didn’t win, we were in those games.
‘‘I’ve said all along that our game was good enough, but we just weren’t doing it for long enough. For a couple of reasons and I knew if we could do it more consistently, we can beat anyone.’’
The Cowboys must find a way to turnaround a six-point loss to the Roosters suffered seven weeks ago in which they flagged badly in the second half.
The Townsville side – who were handed a horror injury toll over the closing two months of the regular season – lost five of their final six regular round games.
That stretch led many to believe that the side were running out of legs without skippers Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston.
Stand-in captain Gavin Cooper declared the side had grown since they last met the Roosters and were capable of booking their second grand final appearance in three years.
‘‘For a half of footy we were pretty good and the second half they blew us off the park and we didn’t know didn’t know how to change momentum in that game,’’ Cooper said of their last meeting with the Roosters.
‘‘We fought hard late. We play very similar types of footy.
‘‘I think a big thing is control and when momentum starts to swing, and Parra swung momentum at the end of the firsthalf there, our boys recognised it and were able to wrestle it back.’’
The Roosters are backing Allianz Stadium to be the burial ground for North Queensland.
While the Cowboys’ two gallant wins have come at neutral venues, the Roosters will very much enjoy home-ground favouritism as they chase a first grand final berth since hoisting the trophy in 2013.
The Roosters have won their past 10 clashes at Allianz, unbeaten since an 18-12 round-five loss to Manly in March.
It’s the best home record in the league, superior even to the Melbourne’s two defeats at AAMI Park and where Roosters coach Trent Robinson expects his side to excel after a priceless week off to physically and mentally recharge.
‘‘Part of playing your footy is knowing your surroundings and that’s a good thing for us. Having to play here, we’ve made it a bit of a fortress so we want to continue that,’’ Robinson said.
Robinson is chuffed to have virtually a full-strength outfit available. He is confident of winger Daniel Tupou being available after suffering a groin strain in the Roosters’ 24-22 win over Brisbane.
Jason Taumalolo carries the ball up for the Cowboys in their NRL semi-final win against the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night in Sydney.