By Alicia Newton, National Correspondent, NRL.com
Townsville airport was flooded with North Queensland Cowboys fans upon arrival from Sydney last week, and the side can expect double that come Sunday after booking a spot in the 2017 Telstra Premiership grand final.
Cowboys coach Paul Green has reiterated the term "belief" throughout the finals series and that was again the topic post-game after his team's stunning 29-16 upset victory over the Sydney Roosters.
It was less than a month ago Green's side were forced to rely on a Bulldogs victory in Round 26 for a spot in the final eight, after which their giant-killer attitude has seen them knock over the Sharks, Eels and Roosters to reach the decider.
Their season prior to that was on life support heading into the finals – losing five of the final six matches in the regular season.
"I kept telling them the luck will turn and you've just got to be ready to take it," Green said after the win.
"If we had rolled over when things were going against us, we definitely wouldn't be in this position.
"The players deserve a massive rap, they've continued to work hard and get better as a team."
A no-nonsense approach from the playing group has contributed heavily, and all while being ranked outsiders in every contest – a notion that has stuck with them since losing Australian pair Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott through injury.
"There was a period there where they weren't getting it right," Green said.
"I've said all along in the finals series, all that matters is what we believe. The belief in the four walls at training is genuine."
North Queensland's mid-season recruitment has worked wonders to accommodate the late charge.
The signing of half Te Maire Martin came at the right time before the injury to Thurston, and the former Panther has provided the perfect support for Michael Morgan, who has gone to another level.
Martin's show-and-go weaving in-between Origin pair Mitchell Pearce and Dylan Napa to the tryline set the tone for the game.
As a result, the performances of Morgan have stepped up, while the acquisition of former Raider Shaun Fensom has enabled the club to move on from Scott's injury.
"I've said it every time I get asked, that's been one of the satisfying things this year – his development as a player and a leader on and off the field is pleasing to be a part of," Green said of Morgan.
"You see people grow and improve – Morgo typifies that. It's been a great journey for him. That's why we are where we are.
"Te Maire is at a different stage development wise but the pleasing thing is he's backing himself – he's not afraid to have a go. That was evident there tonight."
The Cowboys are now within reach of pulling off arguably one of the greatest premiership stories next week, and Green was confident the side had one more effort in them.
Melbourne have won nine in a row including Friday night's 30-0 drubbing of the Broncos and the Cowboys will go in as heavy underdogs for the encounter.
"I think we can [beat them]," Green said.
"They've been the best team all year, consistently good with plenty of strike and big name experience.
"They'll be overwhelming favourites and deserve to be. They're a great side, we've got nothing to lose."
Injuries have been the topic throughout the season for North Queensland and the side are battered and bruised.
Prop-forward John Asiata is playing with a broken hand, Kyle Feldt battled on with a leg injury and Ethan Lowe was sporting a black eye after the clash.
Asked how long the side had left in them physically, Cowboys captain Gavin Cooper echoed the thoughts of Green.
"80-90 to 100 minutes," he said.
"It's a good ride to be a part of. Being here a few years ago there's a few of us in the team tonight that know what to expect with the week.
"We're going to enjoy it and will get in the boys' ears that weren't there two years ago and tell them to embrace it.
"History shows you're not there much in your career and when you're there you have to enjoy it."
First published on NRL.com.