After defeating the Gold Coast Titans 32-16 on home turf last night and securing fourth position, the North Queensland Cowboys are welcoming a home finals berth, conceding there is still a lot of work to be done in defence and branding this year’s final, “a whole different ball game”.
The Cowboys will play the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park in the first week of the finals, with the winner advancing straight to the preliminary final, while the loser is granted a second chance to win through.
Although Coach Paul Green was confident the Cowboys could prevail from any position, he was pleased that the reigning champions had secured a home final: “It’s nice for us to finish in the top four given the challenges we have around travel,” Green said, referring to the team’s significantly stronger home-game record.
“So at some point we get a game back here, which we’ll look forward to.”
Green added that players had shown improvement since last week, but more work was needed ahead of finals: “In some areas… we were probably a little bit off where we have been. But… I saw a little bit of improvement there [Saturday] night.”
Green was also buoyed by the fact that the team had won three games in a row, after losing three straight from round 21 to 23.
“I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at,” he said. “I think we’ve come through that flat patch where we lost a couple of games back-to-back and we’ve strung some good wins together and that’ll give us a bit of confidence going into the finals.
“We realise that finals are a new ball game all together, but I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”
When asked if defence had been a key area marked for improvement, after conceding more than a hundred points fewer than last season, Green said that it had: “That’s an area we highlighted that we wanted to be better in… compared to last year. In saying that I still think there’s still a fair bit of room for improvement there as well, which is good.”
He added that the team saw the approaching finals as an opportunity to further improve their defence: “It’s a new season from tomorrow so we’ve got the opportunity to try to get that part of our game better.”
Co-Captain Johnathan Thurston agreed with Green: “There’s still plenty of room for improvement… we probably took a backwards step in our fifth tackle options there in the first half,” Thurston said after the game.
There seems to be a consensus amongst the team that they need to tighten things up to win coveted back-to-back premierships.
Cowboys forward James Tamou said that last year’s effort would not suffice: “We’ll have to definitely pick it up… comparing it to last year it’s a whole different ball game. Obviously last year is last year… we’ll just have to clean it up a bit.”
The fixtures for the 2016 NRL finals series will be announced tonight (Sunday) after the Panthers v Sea Eagles, which kicks off at 6:30pm.