How the Cowboys became the walking dead

They are the NRL’s version of the walking dead, but the truth is North Queensland rose back to life long before this year’s wretched run with injuries.

The Cowboys are just two wins away from claiming a historic premiership from eighth spot – a feat only the Parramatta side of 2009 has come close to achieving.

But those Eels were inspired by a once-in-a-lifetime form streak from Jarryd Hayne.

North Queensland have done it without their best two players for most of their season.

When champion halfback Johnathan Thurston joined co-captain Matt Scott on the sideline, the Cowboys’ title hopes supposedly went with him.

However the Cowboys have defied the odds to claim finals upsets; first over over defending premiers Cronulla and then hotshots Parramatta to remain one of the final four.

Ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster against the Sydney Roosters, coach Paul Green is quick to point out how the team’s resiliency wasn’t born three months ago.

It was built against the same club three years ago.

Green’s men thought they had completed a stunning comeback from 30-0 down against the Roosters when Thurston was denied a match-winning try because of a dubious knock-on.

It was the third-straight year the Cowboys had been robbed in the post-season, following the ‘Hand of Foz’ in 2012 and the infamous seven-tackle set the following year.

Green was brought in that summer. The team’s now-trademark toughness arrived with him.

“There’s no doubt they were really bad calls, but when you look at the rest of those games, there was plenty of areas that the team could’ve been better in,” Green told AAP.

“As a team, we needed to take the refs out of it. So regardless of whether you get bad calls or not, that shouldn’t decide the result.”

This finals series is likely to be remembered for the way coaches hung match officials to dry in week one, and NRL boss Todd Greenberg’s war cry after it.

Green’s words stand as a subliminal moment in the club’s history.

He said players previously used the refereeing calls as a crutch.

“If we went back and wanted to talk about refs’ decisions being the reason why we didn’t win the final, that would always be our excuse. We’d never get past it,” Green says.

“They were big games that stuff like that had happened, but my point was it’s not the reason why we lost. In that game at one point we were down 30-0.

“You shouldn’t be in that situation to begin with.”

This year the Cowboys were in a situation they couldn’t avoid, when Lachlan Coote (ankle), Jake Granville (leg), Justin O’Neill (elbow), and Gavin Cooper (calf) all fell victim to the curse.

Green is also quick to point out young guns Josh Chudleigh (ACL), Shaun Hudson (ACL), Patrick Kaufusi (foot) and Ben Spina (bicep) have all been unavailable too.

But the biggest blow came when Thurston aggravated his shoulder in State of Origin II.

Immediately the team was reminded of their 29 per cent winning record without him.

“That was another crutch as a club we had to overcome,” Green says.

“I reckon we had overcome that. We were certainly competitive throughout the last four years without JT. In 2015 we won both of our games without our Origin players.

“So we’d actually moved past that, but not for everyone else. They were still bringing that up, like the old adage that we couldn’t win away from home.”

But the Cowboys proved that wrong too. They did it two years ago, when they were the only team to drop three matches away from Townsville.

Their courage was there when they won four finals games in four different cities.

“It’s been around for a while. It’s not something we’ve just picked up in the past few weeks,” winger Kyle Feldt says.

“After that call in 2014, we won the grand final the next year. The resilience has been there the whole time.”

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