The Cowboys are as well placed as any NRL side ever – to win the grand final from outside the top four.
A quiet confidence is exuding from North Queensland as they seek to go one better than in 2005 and achieve what has so far proved impossible.
No team since the NRL was formed in 1998, has won the competition from outside the top four.
But the in-form Cowboys, who have won seven of their past eight matches, including victories over top four sides South Sydney and Manly and a one-point loss to third-placed Penrith, are as well placed to do so as any side over the past 17 years.
Canterbury in 1998, St George Illawarra the season after, the Cowboys in 2005, Parramatta in 2009, the Sydney Roosters the following year and the Warriors in 2011 have all made it through to the grand final from the back half of the eight (in 1998 there was a 10 team final series), but have fallen at the last hurdle.
The Cowboys have been bundled out of the finals in controversial fashion in the last two seasons but captain Johnathan Thurston says that’s of no concern to his side ahead of Saturday night’s first elimination final against Brisbane in Townsville.
“We are a completely different side to what we were 12 months ago or 24 months ago,” Thurston told AAP at the launch of the NRL finals series in Sydney on Monday.
“I think we are a lot better placed than what we have been in the past heading into finals.
“The boys have a quiet confidence after playing some really good football over the last eight weeks.
“As a team we are processing information a lot better, the communication between coaches and players is a lot better.
“We know what the opposition weaknesses and strengths are and when you know that you can play better as a team.
Only the Sydney Roosters, who have won six straight, are mirroring the form of the Cowboys. But North Queensland can also boast a thumping of the premiers in round 10.
For now Thurston won’t entertain talk of playing in just the club’s second grand final alongside their loss to Wests Tigers in the 2005 decider.
The Cowboys’ focus is on Brisbane, and Brisbane only.
“It is a healthy and respectful rivalry,” he said.
“I know both sets of fans love coming up against each other, every time we play them you walk off the field sore and busted.”
“They have strike power all over the park, Benny Hunt is playing the best football he has ever played, Sammy T (Thaiday) is back this week (from suspension).
“He is such a great player, it is a big challenge for us.”
NRL GRAND FINALISTS, (REGULAR SEASON FINISH IN BRACKETS)
1998: Brisbane (1) bt Canterbury (9)
1999: Melbourne (3) bt St George Illawarra (6)
2000: Brisbane (1) bt Sydney Roosters (2)
2001: Newcastle (3) bt Parramatta (1)
2002: Sydney Roosters (4) bt Warriors (1)
2003: Penrith (1) bt Sydney Roosters (2)
2004: Canterbury (2) bt Sydney Roosters (1)
2005: Wests Tigers (4) bt North Queensland (5)
2006: Brisbane (3) bt Melbourne (1)
2007: Melbourne (1) bt Manly (2)*
2008: Manly (2) bt Melbourne (1)
2009: Melbourne (4) bt Parramatta (8)*
2010: St George Illawarra (1) bt Sydney Roosters (6)
2011: Manly (2) bt Warriors (6)
2012: Melbourne (1) bt Canterbury (2)
2013: Sydney Roosters (1) bt Manly (4)
*Premierships stripped due to salary cap breaches