North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston says the Cowboys have to find another level to stay in the hunt for a maiden NRL premiership.
Last week’s semi-final belting of Cronulla in Townsville reinvigorated the Cowboys’ finals campaign – but a repeat performance against Melbourne in Saturday night’s grand final won’t be enough on its own, according to their superstar playmaker.
In no mood to talk up his side’s chances, Thurston instead lavished praise on his Origin teammates Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, who he said were two of the best big-game players in the NRL and hold the key for the Storm.
“It was a step in the right direction for us last week and we need to continue that momentum,” Thurston told reporters on Thursday before the team’s departure for Melbourne.
“We’re coming up against a forward pack that’s probably one of the best in the game, they’re led around the park by the No.1 hooker in the game (Smith) and someone like Cooper Cronk that can execute a game-plan like no other.
“Their kicking game is second-to-none, probably the best in the league. They’ve got all the weapons to win a comp.
“Our back five have got a big job trying to nullify their impact on the game.”
While the Storm were enjoying the bye last week, the Cowboys were busy breathing life back into their season with a 39-0 rout of the Sharks.
It was an awe-inspiring display and easily one of the best from North Queensland all year, but there’s still room for improvement, Thurston insisted.
“We dropped a few balls and let them off the hook last week. We’ll have to control the ball better coming up against this team,” he said.
“They control possession, they kick extremely well and once they get their foot on your throat, they don’t let up.”
North Queensland were 14-6 losers on their last visit to Melbourne and, like all NRL teams, have a dire record at AAMI Park.
They are also in the midst of a decade-long drought when it comes to away wins in the finals – their most recent road victory coming in the year they last made the grand final, 2005.
“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best – and obviously, Melbourne are the best,” Thurston said.
“They know how to win big games. They’ve got no AFL down there (this weekend) so it’s all purple pride for them.
“No doubt it’ll be a sold-out crowd. It’s a tough ask for us but this is the challenge that you want heading into a GF.”