Fairy tale Cowboys need to flip the board in NRL grand final

ONE TO GO: North Queensland will need to throw something new at Melbourne to win Sunday's  grand final. Picture: AAP
ONE TO GO: North Queensland will need to throw something new at Melbourne to win Sunday's grand final. Picture: AAP

IN 1985 reigning middleweight champion Marvin Hagler faced off against former junior-middleweight champion Tommy Hearns in a championship super-fight billed as ‘The War’.

It proved an apt description with both men turning on three of the most explosive in rounds in championship boxing history. Many consider round one the best round of all time.

Hearns, the smaller man coming up, went after the bigger guy and twice shook the seemingly unshakeable Hagler early. It was the most trouble the iron-chinned Hagler had been in in his previous 62 bouts.

Hearns broke his hand in that round, and was ultimately stopped in the third. However, there’s a lesson in it for North Queensland ahead of Sunday’s grand final.

Hearns could’ve been content to box and simply ‘go with’ Hagler. He’d have lost no respect had he done so, but his chances of wearing down the bigger man over 15 rounds were slim.

His best shot at victory was an early stoppage. He went after it, he stood in the pocket, he left himself vulnerable. He ultimately came up short but he was a punch or two away. He risked it all on his best shot at victory.

The Cowboys deserve plenty of credit for reaching the decider. They’ve certainly done it the hard way. They’ve got there on the back of disciplined high completion football.

“We won’t beat ourselves,” assistant coach Todd Payten said last week.

In the prelim final against the Roosters, they completed at 90 per cent for 58 per cent possession. They conceded just two penalties and made five errors to the Roosters 13.

They did a similar job on the Sharks and Eels in the first two weeks of the finals, with touches of class from Michael Morgan getting them home in all three games.

The obvious temptation would be to take the same approach. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “We won’t beat ourselves,” they may be tempted to say again.

But is that enough to defeat a team who’ve made an art-form of the same formula? Are you going to beat Bobbie Fischer in a chess match, or do you flip the board and take some risks? Do you leave yourself vulnerable for your best shot at victory? It’s what the Cowboys need to ask themselves.

Nothing’s ever certain in rugby league but, in recent history, there’s been a sense of inevitability about the side crowned premiers. Last season it was the Sharks who finally turned the porch light off.

The Cowboys rode their own wave of inevitability to their breakthrough first title, the future immortal Jonathan Thurston kicking them home and casting off the one asterisk on his greatness.

In 2014 it was South Sydney were again the pride of the league in a 21st birthday party 43 years in the making. 

Melbourne’s charge at the title has that same sense of inevitability. 

They’ve conquered all before them this season. Cameron Smith, Billey Slater and Cooper Cronk are on their final lap as the celebrated ‘big three’.

The Cowboys might be this year’s fairy tale team but, to knock off the Storm on Sunday, they’re the ones who need to tear up the script.