Cowboys INSIDER

• The Toyota Cowboys received an unexpected visit from one of the greatest managers in the history of world soccer at their Sydney hotel this morning. Italian Marcello Lippi, who took his country to World Cup glory in 2006, is now in charge of Chinese club team Guangzhou Evergrande who have an Asian Cup quarter-final against Western Sydney Wanderers coming up at Parramatta Stadium on Wednesday night. North Queensland and Guangzhou have been sharing the Novotel Parramatta for the last two nights and Lippi, now 66, dropped in on the Cowboys’ recovery session where he had an informal chat with coach Paul Green and general manager – football Peter Parr. The five-time Italian championship winner, who has a reported $14 million a year salary, was interested in where the Cowboys were from, how their season was progressing and outlined some of the challenges he faces at Guangzhou.

• Rain on Monday forced the Cowboys into a different morning activity as part of their match day preparations. They headed indoors for a table tennis tournament that saw the squad split into two-man teams for a knockout competition. With all of their teammates watching on, Scott Bolton and Kyle Feldt claimed victory in the final. The only prize was bragging rights.

• The Cowboys’ Sydney camp switched to Cronulla this afternoon and the players will have a day off from training on Wednesday to help with their recovery from Monday night’s tough loss to Penrith. There are on-field sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday to prepare for another crucial match, against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

• Unlike their NRL counterparts, the Cowboys’ NYC squad returned home on Tuesday morning. They will be back south on Friday for their final away match of the year.

• Your memory is right if it’s telling you that the Cowboys have had a lot of close losses this year. The one-point defeat against Penrith was the seventh game that NQ have lost by six points or less.

• Co-captain Matt Scott will be a special guest on Sterlo on Fox Sports on Thursday night. As well as having a chat to the panel, he’ll take on the darts challenge currently being led by ex-Cowboy James Segeyaro.

• Our stats leaders from Monday night’s loss to Penrith were: most metres – Matt Scott (165m); most tackles – Gavin Cooper and Matt Scott (39); most try assists – Gavin Cooper (2); most tackle breaks – Antonio Winterstein (6).

• Happy birthday to Gavin Cooper who turns 28 today. Not only did Coops make his first start since round 10 on Monday night, he managed to punch out the full 80 minutes as well.

• We missed an important NYC birthday last week. Congratulations to Queensland under-18 representative Coen Hess who celebrated his 18th birthday and was one of our best in the loss to Penrith.

Jared Verney took an unusual route to making his debut in the Cowboys’ NYC squad on Monday night. This time last year, the 20-year-old was playing his footy on New Zealand’s North Island and was then invited to have a season with Tully Tigers in the Cairns competition. He caught the eye of the Cowboys who signed him up for the rest of 2014 just prior to the 30 June deadline.

• Monday night’s loss to Penrith bumped the Cowboys’ NRL premiership odds out to $15 with bookmakers bet365.com. Our opponents on Saturday night, South Sydney, are competition favourites at $3.50. Johnathan Thurston is a $1.66 favourite to finish the home and away season as top point-scorer.