Cowboys take heart from finals spot
In a year in which just about everything that could have gone wrong for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys did go wrong, it's hard to begrudge them a spot in the finals that they only secured at the end of Round 26.
But to their credit, they made it there clear on points, proving that a win in Round 1 is just as valuable as a win in Round 26.
Given the injury toll the Cowboys had in 2017, captain Gavin Cooper is proud that a group of young players who usually support more than lead stepped up and made it to the finals, and is confident that they'll be better for it in 2018.
"The experience that the younger guys in our team have had, and hopefully will have throughout the year, you couldn't put a price on it," Cooper said.
"Leading into next year, getting a few troops back and a couple of key signings that we've got coming as well, it's only going to stand the Cowboys in better stead for next year."
The returning troops are obvious - Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott have been a huge part of the Cowboys for the last decade, and their return will add an extra dimension in attack, plus whatever it is that Thurston adds to a team that can't be taught.
Key signings include Jordan McClean, a Melbourne Storm product who will contribute massively to the Cowboys' pack, if he can get a spot ahead of the likes of Shaun Fensom and the injured Ben Spina, who have improved massively for the Cowboys in 2017.
Jason Taumalolo is one of the few players who have been constantly amongst it for the Cowboys this year, and coach Paul Green is pleased with how he, and other players, have stepped up to the test that 2017 has proved to be for North Queensland.
"He's probably one of a number of players that have had to step up and show some leadership not just on the field but off the field as well," Green said.
"I think it's a credit to those guys, I wouldn't say they're young guys, but they're certainly not veterans yet, it's a credit to those guys that have lead the team for us this year."
"There's one guy that runs out with a 'C' next to his name each week but there's a number of leaders within the group and Jason is one of those."
"Michael Morgan is another one, Scott Bolton is another one so those guys deserve a huge wrap and have contributed enormously to where we are."
If the Cowboys can recapture the effort they've put in this year, especially towards the back-end of the season, and add the polish that Thurston and Scott bring to the team, they'll undoubtedly be involved in another finals push in 2018.
First published on NRL.com.