The Courier-Mail

Cowboys hit panic button far too often

- PAUL MALONE

LACHLAN Coote has been brave, clever and resolute for the Cowboys this year, but hopefully he has learnt now what not to do in a semi-final.

For all of his courage in defence and with kicks in North Queensland’s instructiv­e 14-6 loss to Melbourne on Saturday, two of Coote’s choices with the ball when the Cowboys fell 14-0 behind was symptomati­c of a night where the visitors became frustrated and panicked when confronted by the percentage game played expertly by the Storm.

The Storm are not quite the Storm anymore, but on selective days this season, the team in purple and blue has done a damn good impression of the old Melbourne.

Melbourne took a strangleho­ld on a game played in slippery conditions through the quality of their defence, which did not allow one line break, and their precise kicking.

For a team that has kind of specialise­d this season in winning games from 18-0 down, the Cowboys played panic football in attack.

It did not help that the Cowboys went 60 minutes without a penalty and the Storm twigged that Origin referee Ben Cummins had lost interest in awarding offside and ruck penalties against them.

Cummins whistled three penalties against Melbourne in the first six minutes and then found they were blameless over a long stretch in which the home side received seven penalties in a row.

Johnathan Thurston and Coote took a lot of playmaking on their shoulders in the absence of the injured Michael Morgan and it is not easy for coach Paul Green to find a better way of sharing the load.

Coote was lacking in patience a long way from fulltime in trying to land a scoring punch.

In the 51st minute, with the Cowboys down by 14, he popped an offload which turned the ball over. With still 20 minutes left, he forced a pass on his 10m, trying to free up a kick return.

That Coote produced a trysaving tackle on opposite number Cameron Munster in the ensuing set after the second error provides just one exam- ple of how he has contribute­d to the Cowboys this year.

Like Coote, Thurston also played in the second half like a man short of time.

Their frustratio­n over a notry call on a first-half try by Kyle Feldt was understand­able, but the applicatio­n of the obstructio­n rule has kept league watchers on their toes for years now.

Watching the Cowboys in the second half in Melbourne reminded me of a salutary tale from one of Australia’s greatest Test moments.

After the “Miracle of Old Trafford’’ in 1990, the late try run in by Mal Meninga after Ricky Stuart’s long break, Stuart told me the reason he had been thinking so clearly.

It stemmed back, he said, to what Raiders coach Tim Sheens used to call their “seven-minute drill’’.

Sheens would get his players that year to finish training with a game of seven-a-side footy for seven minutes.

It emphasised to the Raiders players how much football can be played in the final few minutes of a game when your side is behind. “It teaches you not to panic,’’ Stuart said.

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