All defending premiers say it but North Queensland are adamant they have the motivation needed to break the NRL’s back-to-back titles hoodoo.
Some mighty teams have tried and failed since Brisbane in 1993 became the last team to retain the title in a unified competition, most recently Sydney Roosters and South Sydney.
But the letdown following grand final euphoria can be insidious, and recapturing the level of chemistry and ambition that swept away all challenges the previous season is problematic.
The Cowboys will go into the new season riding a wave of positivity after their 38-4 poleaxing of English champions Leeds to claim the World Club Challenge trophy.
But the Rabbitohs, of course, were on a similar wave 12 months ago having won the WCC as well as the Nines competition – only their wave crashed.
Cowboys co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott acknowledge the pitfalls of being defending champions but, at age 32 and 30 respectively, are equally aware the chance to add another premiership ring will never be better than it currently is.
And they believe they have a major advantage others didn’t, with all their players back on deck.
“100 per cent there is still motivation there. You’ve got to make the most of the opportunities that you get,” Thurston said.
“We’re in a unique position where we’ve been able to keep the same squad from last year.
“You’ve got to make the most of it. We are under no illusion about what lies ahead for us.”
Becoming the hunted is a prospect most premiers find challenging, with every team looking to knock off the top dog, but Thurston feels they experienced something similar last year when on an 11-game winning streak – an experience he expects will serve them well in 2016.
“We sort of had a taste of it last year … all the teams that were getting up for us,” he said.
“It will be no different this year.”
North Queensland were the quietest team on the transfer market last season, preferring to focus on retention.
They enjoyed great success on that front, and will start the season with the same 17 players who featured in last year’s memorable grand final win over Brisbane.
Scott expects having the same players will provide added motivation, even moreso after seeing the Broncos and Sydney Roosters enjoy similarly spectacular wins during the latest World Club Series.
“This group is not done yet. We know we’ve got a lot of improvement in us,” Scott said.
“We need to improve to be competitive in the NRL competition – we saw what the Roosters and the Broncos did.
“They’re just two teams that have hit the ground running as well. We need to get better to compete.”
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Premierships: 1 – 2015
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – premiers, 2014 – semi-final, 2013 – qualifying final
Coach: Paul Green
Captains: Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott
Gains: Shaun Hudson (Gold Coast)
Losses: Glenn Hall (retired), Cameron King (Parramatta), Robert Lui (Salford Red Devils), Zac Santo (Canberra), Scott Schulte (Parramatta), Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta)
Strength: They’re premiers for a reason – a talent-laden squad superbly led by star halves Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan behind a representative pack.
Weakness: The burden of expectation, among other factors, has cruelled every premiership defence in a unified competition since Brisbane in 1993.
Best team: Lachlan Coote, Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Jake Granville, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo. Res: Rory Kostjaysn, John Asiata, Scott Bolton, Ben Hannant.
Predicted finish: 1st