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Cowboys sense another finals upset
Friday, September 21, 2007 - 6:50 PM
North Queensland coach Graham Murray can sense his side is poised for another NRL preliminary final upset, similar to their shock 2005 grand final appearance.
The Cowboys are riding a club record seven-game winning streak into Saturday's grand final qualifier with Manly at the Sydney Football Stadium and Murray says the team is building another well-timed finals charge.
Two years ago the under-rated Cowboys rode into Sydney and stunned Parramatta with a 29-0 victory at Telstra Stadium to reach a grand final showdown with the Wests Tigers.
Murray is hesitant to proclaim his current side are in better form than the class of 2005, but he knows they're ticking all the boxes at the right time of the year to earn another premiership shot.
"At the moment they're just playing as good as they possibly can as a unit," said Murray.
"I don't want to down-play our performance (last weekend) but they had a lot of things go against them the Warriors.
"We're playing pretty good but we haven't got the banners out, we haven't got the drums out. We're just playing a good standard of football.
"The young blokes who have come in are enjoying the finals experience and every week they seem to lift to the new challenge."
The challenge on Saturday is to score points against a defence rated one of the best all season.
For all the Cowboys' victories over the past seven weeks, they've still conceded on average just under four tries per game.
Against the Sea Eagles such a defensive effort will not be good enough as Manly have conceded just 2.5 tries per game all season.
Manly coach Des Hasler admits the Sea Eagles have spent most of their preparation finessing their defensive plans, knowing that victory will be made easier if they can limit the opportunities for noted playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen.
"I don't think there is any plan you can put in place (to stop them) but we'll just do what we do best and get out there and play the best game we possibly can," said Hasler.
"They're quite willing to score points and they're quite willing to be able to outscore you.
"If we can nullify their time down our end we should be okay."
Both Manly and North Queensland have injury concerns for Saturday's game, the Sea Eagles optimistic about Glenn Stewart (ankle) and Chris Hicks (ankle) while the Cowboys rate Carl Webb (calf) unlikely.
Webb's absence will hurt the depleted Cowboys forward pack, but if 2007 has taught them anything it is that they can handle adversity.
After a three-game post-Origin losing streak many predicted the Cowboys' season would again fold away to an anti-climatic finish.
But Murray says the club has gradually improved since their 54-10 round 20 flogging from the Wests Tigers, with the young forwards carving out new reputations for themselves and Thurston bravely battling on with serious shoulder problems.
"I think we've just improved ever so slightly from that game on," he said.
"Over a steady period of six weeks we've improved every week and I think it's all related. Attack, but particularly defence.
"We had a couple of blow out games (earlier in the year) ... but I still wasn't unhappy with the commitment the players were showing.
"The whole team is playing better and have started getting some confidence amongst each other.
"We've always had the ability to score points but it's a matter of controlling the ball properly and getting to our kick and putting pressure on the opposition and the last five weeks we've been doing that pretty good."
COMON THE COWBOYS