Cowboys vie for NRL top four finish - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Cowboys vie for NRL top four finish

By Laine Clark 30/08/2011 08:32:34 PM Comments (0)

A stomach bug may have cut down North Queensland ahead of their biggest game of the NRL season but Cowboys hooker Aaron Payne insists finals fever will be their major ailment this week.

Six Cowboys, including Payne and inspirational co-captains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, are overcoming a nasty bout of gastro in the lead-up to Saturday night's must-win clash with the Warriors in New Zealand.

However, Payne said his side were more concerned with making a rare finals foray, with a top four berth up for grabs this weekend.

After narrowly missing the wooden spoon twice in the last three seasons, the Cowboys have turned it around in 2011.

The Cowboys must down the Warriors to keep their home final hopes alive after Wests Tigers leapfrogged them into fourth with Monday night's 39-10 win over Gold Coast.

The Tigers have a handy 17-point buffer in points differential over fifth-placed North Queensland and a win over Cronulla on Saturday night should ensure them a home final.

"The last couple of years have been disappointing and when we sat down at the start of the year it was a real goal of the team to play finals footy again," Payne said.

"It's getting exciting now.

"Regardless of where we finish we are playing finals footy.

"It's great for the whole town, for all of north Queensland.

"They deserve it. A lot of them have stuck by us through a lot of tough times."

Payne was confident illness would not be a factor against the Warriors after they overcame the worst of it to down the Sharks 28-20 last round.

Despite the bug draining a third of the team - and having their bench halved with injuries to Tariq Sims (leg) and Dallas Johnson (concussion) - the Cowboys still emerged triumphant against Cronulla.

"I am feeling good. I don't think I got it as bad as the rest of the guys," Payne said of the bug.

"I think touch wood the guys are finished with it now.

"We are definitely ready for finals footy.

"We have a lot of improvement still in us.

"But the pleasing thing is we have been in tight games and learned to win them - that's what finals footy is about."

Indeed Cowboys coach Neil Henry hoped his side would start playing finals footy against the Warriors this weekend.

"We need to shut them down and play a territorial game," he said on Tuesday.

"I think that is what teams are talking about at this time of year - let's get into semi-final mode a week or two early.

"Let's play the physical game, and don't take as many risks as you would normally - possession is vital."

Henry named an extended squad that will leave for Auckland on Thursday.

Forwards Ashton Sims and Cory Paterson have been named on a five-man interchange.

Henry said he would know more about Johnson - who copped a heavy hit last round - after tests on Wednesday.

"We are assuming he will be (playing) - he's had no headaches or anything like that," he said.

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