PANTHER PRIDE | A big win for the mountain men tonight has them firmly entrenched in the top eight, ...
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North Queensland coach Graham Murray would have been laughed out of the room with such a comment a month ago.
The usually reserved mentor said Friday the Cowboys were quietly confident of halting the Melbourne juggernaut in Saturday night's NRL clash at Townsville.
After three rounds the Cowboys looked like a club in turmoil.
Murray was one of the odds-on favourites in the "NRL first coach to depart" betting.
Their attack was disjointed.
And their defence?
Conceding 102 points in three matches said it all.
Fast forward to round seven and the Cowboys are back in the saddle.
Three straight wins, Matt Bowen back to full fitness and form, and Johnathan Thurston looking ominous again following off-season shoulder surgery.
It's happy days at North Queensland - and even Murray couldn't hide it Friday.
"We are pretty confident that we are playing good enough football to beat them," Murray said.
"We've had three good weeks."
Even when Murray was complimenting the Storm (4-2), he ended up giving his once maligned Cowboys a rap.
"I still think they are the favourites of the competition," he said of the defending champions who have also won their last three games.
"They've got a hell of a lot of strike players, they're a good football team and we'll have to play well to beat them.
"Having said that, we're in good form ourselves so all in all it leads up to a great contest."
Another "great contest" will be the battle of the fullbacks.
But even the Cowboys seem resigned to Billy Slater snapping up the Australian No.1 jersey for May 9's Centenary Test.
Cowboys custodian Matt Bowen returned from a niggling knee complaint in stunning fashion against the Warriors last round, scoring three tries.
Slater has racked up seven tries in six games, averaging 148 metres a match.
But if anyone is going to deny Bowen a Test jersey, Cowboys fans would rather it be Innisfail born and bred Slater.
The Storm flyer will feel at home Saturday night after spending time visiting family in north Queensland this week following Melbourne's arrival on Tuesday.
"He's one of the best players in the competition but we've got a good fullback too. It'll be a great match-up between the pair of them," Murray said.
"It was great that Matty came back last week and had a good game because now he's up against probably the No.1 fullback and it's a good clash between the two of them."
The Cowboys have turned it around by scoring 102 points in their three wins.
And their defence - well, these days Murray can boast about it.
"Our defence has been pretty good. We have worked hard on defence and our attack has flowed from there," he said.
"They (Melbourne) are a pretty similar side, so it should be a good contest."
Murray is yet to finalise his 17 with either Anthony Watts or David Faiumu expected to be cut from the extended bench.
For the Storm, Test lock Dallas Johnson (ankle) is battling injury.