The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have had a busy but exciting week following their 32-24 Round 21 win over the Canberra Raiders at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday.
The game was a grand celebration for two Cowboys players as co-captain Matt Scott and fullback Lachlan Coote celebrated milestone matches in front of their home fans. Scott – who walked out on to the field with infant son Hugo in his arms – played his 200th National Rugby League/Cowboys match, a milestone which automatically makes him a life member at the club. Scott becomes the sixth person to receive the honour, joining players Paul Bowen, Aaron Payne, Matt Bowen and Johnathan Thurston, plus non-playing cub stalwart Barry Buchanan. Scott, from the small central Queensland town of Ilfracombe, had family and friends at the game to share in his milestone, with his teammates doing their part by securing a hard-fought win, the team’s 15th of the season.
Coote brought up his 100th NRL against the Raiders, a mark that took seven seasons to reach given the custodian’s well-publicised struggles with injury over the years. Playing some of his best rugby league after sitting out all of the Cowboys’ 2014 campaign, Coote is a key member of the Cowboys well-performed spine, which includes halves Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan and hooker Jake Granville.
The win over the Raiders, coupled with the Broncos’ shock Round 21 loss to the Sea Eagles, has the Cowboys equal-first on the NRL ladder on 34 points, with Brisbane ahead on for-and-against. The Cowboys now will officially play finals football, with it statistically impossible for eight other teams to finish the season – which has five rounds to run – on more points. It will be the fifth straight season in which the Cowboys will play finals football.
But first, the Cowboys must contend with the Sharks at Remondis Stadium on Saturday. The Sharks were the last team to defeat the Cowboys, with a 24-18 result in Round 16 snapping the North Queenslanders’ record-setting 11-match winning streak. Since that match – played without the Cowboys’ chief playmaker Thurston – the Cowboys have posted wins of the Dragons, the Sea Eagles, the Eels and the Raiders. The Sharks match is the final fixture in what coach Paul Green has identified as the first of two four-week blocks to round out the regular season. This block featured matches against teams on the fringe of playing finals football and desperate to win – Sea Eagles, Eels, Raiders and now Sharks. The second four-week block has the Cowboys hosting the Rabbitohs, travelling to play the Warriors and the Storm and rounding out the season by hosting the Titans.