North Queensland’s killer NRL instinct remains firmly intact despite Johnathan Thurston’s absence, Warriors boss Stephen Kearney says.
With future immortal Thurston sidelined for the remainder of 2017 with a shoulder issue, many predicted the Cowboys would slide down the ladder.
Yet, in no small part due to new Kiwi playmaking recruit Te Maire Martin, the Cowboys have surged with three clinical wins on the bounce.
The sixth-placed side will host Kearney’s struggling Warriors on Saturday in Townsville, with an NRL top-four spot up for grabs.
“They’ve still got a few pretty handy players in there. So it doesn’t necessarily, for me, change them,” Kearney told reporters this week.
“They’re a team that knows how to win and get a job done, and largely they’ve got – apart from Johnathan not being in the side – the (same) backline.
“They’re always settled in that sense, know their jobs.”
Also pivotal to the Cowboys’ fortunes has been rampaging Kiwi lock Jason Taumalolo, Kearney’s former charge at international level.
The bullish 24-year-old has made at least 160 metres with ball-in-hand in each of his side’s past three games, and will again start against the Warriors.
Hooker Issac Luke, who plays with Taumalolo in the Kiwis set-up, admitted that shackling the Auckland-born lock was easier said than done – and that the Warriors were staring down the barrel of defeat if they didn’t execute.
“It’s just about limiting his time with the ball in hand, and we’re going to have to win a lot of those tackles to try and stop him,” Luke said.
“You’ve just got to limit his metres.
“As a forward pack, we haven’t been there in the past two games. It’s all about trying to roll down the park, and let (halves) take over in the last plays.”