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Age not an issue for Cowboys out to prove critics wrong once more

Too young? Too inexperienced? Continue to underestimate the North Queensland Cowboys at your own peril.

Constantly squashing every argument that gets thrown their way, they are ready to prove the naysayers wrong once more that they have a young and inexperienced pack.

“Yes, a lot of these boys in our team are very young, haven’t played finals, and haven’t been in this position before. But they bring so much energy. It’s just so exciting,” said Cowboys forward Jordan McLean.

There have been so many reasons for the Cowboys not to succeed this season. With many tipping them for the wooden spoon, they silenced their critics by finishing third on the NRL ladder. Coach Todd Payten went from having his head on the chopping block to being a favourite for the Dally M ‘Coach of the Year’ award.

There was the argument of too much travel being a factor; their away record in 2022 of 8-4 stacked up nicely against 9-3 at home.

Expecting to buckle under the pressure in the first week of the finals, they broke the hearts of the Cronulla Sharks in a 93-minute blockbuster and earnt a week off.

The inexperience that people talk about includes Jason Taumalolo, Kyle Feldt and Jake Granville who were there when the Cowboys won their maiden premiership in 2015, as well as Chad Townsend and Valentine Holmes who were part of the Sharks’ long-awaited first grand final win the following year. Coen Hess played with the already mentioned Cowboys in their 2017 grand final loss to the Melbourne Storm, and McLean held the trophy aloft while wearing purple that same year.

In contrast, their opponents in the preliminary final on Friday night, the Parramatta Eels, only have Ryan Matterson with grand final experience after he played for the Roosters in their premiership win in 2018.

And as for young? While McLean won his premiership with a team full of veterans, he knows the age of some in his current pack will only add to the strength of his side’s chances.

“Some of the boys have already played in big games this year, like Origin. They’ve got a taste of the big game vibe. And, you know, we’ve played some big games this year, up here in Townsville, to sold-out crowds.”

Young guns like Tom Dearden, Reuben Cotter, Jeremiah Nanai and Tom Gilbert were all selected to represent Queensland this year, gaining knowledge and experience that has no doubt benefited the Cowboys.

Murray Taulagi was also part of that squad, and in a short time has become one of the most exciting wingers in the competition. With the club finishing the 2019 and 2020 seasons in 14th spot, and last year slipping further down to 15th, Taulagi agrees everything has just fallen into place this time round.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Murray Taulagi during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 04, 2022 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Murray Taulagi. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“Yeah, it has just clicked. We’ve been there and know how it feels to lose games and this year is a lot different. We’ve won a lot of games and it’s such a good feeling,” said Taulagi.

“It all started well from the preseason. That was obviously mentally and physically tough. And then a lot of behind-the-scenes action from all the coaching staff and getting our bodies right and trying to find the right combinations. And I think they’ve done that, it’s obviously showing.

“We’ve just got a really close group that has a lot of trust and belief in each other which is really good to see.”

The success of this season not only means a lot to the club but to the entire area. The people of North Queensland have never been far from the Cowboys’ minds.

“This season was pretty much for our community. Our fans, they really stuck loyal with us the last couple of years, and we just want to repay them with our performances this weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s sold out, so really looking forward to the atmosphere.”

That upcoming performance against the Eels on Friday night is the only thing standing in the Cowboys’ way of a grand final spot. After smashing the Eels 35-4 up in Darwin back in round 8, the team knows they won’t have it so easy this time round.

“The score probably didn’t reflect that game so much,” said McLean.

“It was a tough game, and I’m expecting the exact same thing. The score line won’t be the same as it was last time, it won’t stretch out that far.

“I suppose we just keep it simple, do what we do and execute our job. Run hard, tackle hard, just put them in places where they don’t like to be put in. Make them feel uncomfortable and try to keep them there as long as we can because the longer we can do that, then we might be able to break them.”

“Obviously they want to get one up on us,” added Taulagi. “Higher stakes this week, so I think they will be coming out firing and I’m sure we’ll be well prepared for that.”

DARWIN, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Coen Hess of the Cowboys looks to pass as he is tackled during the round eight NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the North Queensland Cowboys at TIO Stadium, on April 30, 2022, in Darwin, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The heat of Darwin no doubt played a factor in that round 8 game, favouring the team from the tropics. With the Eels spending some of their recent training sessions indoors with the heaters cranking, they are going to need all the preparation they can get to be ready for the Townsville temps.

“Oh man, this last week has been so hot!” laughed Taulagi.

“Much worse than Darwin to the honest. My drink bottle melted the other day at training, I had to go and buy myself YETI drink bottle.”

Assuming everything goes to plan this weekend for the Cowboys, Taulagi is predicting the Penrith Panthers to beat the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday night, booking a grand final match against the premiers the following Sunday.

“Oh, it’s a tough game but I think if the Penrith spine turns up again, as they have been doing all year, I think we might be against them. But if Latrell and his team can turn it on it will be a close game.”

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McLean doesn’t care who they face. As long as the Cowboys are there, and their opponents represent the walking wounded.

“We get the job done this week, and whoever it is hopefully we can do the same next week. I hope they (Penrith and Souths) just flog each other this weekend.

“At the start of the season, we had a goal of playing finals this year. And we’ve achieved that goal. And hopefully, now we can go a bit further.”



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