PANTHERS PIP BUNNIES | More misery for South Sydney Rabbitohs as the Penrith Panthers scraped home d...
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You'd be forgiven for misplacing the Cowboys in the lead up to the 2009 season as little was made about the club that could.
Despite the lack of media attention, the club went through a series of changes most notably the return of coach Neil Henry from Canberra and conditioner Billy Johnstone from the Gold Coast. Both men were involved with the club when the Cowboys reached their maiden grand final appearance and had successful runs with their respective associations since their brief departure. Their return caused a wave of excitement to engulf the Cowboys and with the noted signings of former Internationals in Willie Tonga and Antonio Kafusi the Cowboys line up appeared to be one of the most dominant sides on paper. However success proved to be a hard thing to come by in the earlier part of the season as the side struggled with the changed embedded by the new coaching staff, most notably was the preservation of Johnathan Thurston.
Thurston was renown for being a dominant figure in the Cowboys line-up yet it appeared he was confined to one side of the field as complacent five eighth Travis Burns was given more responsibility with the football. What resulted was a disappointing 1-4 record and a series of questions asking if the appointment of Henry had stifled the Cowboys attack. Buoyed by these comments the club took their frustrations out on a luckless Cronulla side in Adelaide, recording an emphatic 34-10 victory. However the result was only the beginning of the good news for the Cowboys as the game allowed Johnathan Thurston to re-establish himself as the dominant player maker of the competition, which in turn reversed the fortunes of his team.
The Townsville based side went onto record an impressive 5-2 record solidifying themselves as premiership contenders. Among those wins was a brilliant performance against a rambunctious Rabbitohs side at Dairy Farmers which resulted in a 46-12 victory with the main highlight being the dominance of the Cowboys forward pack and the work of Johnathan Thurston in assistance to his backline. Also noted in that record is the disappointing loss to the Eels at Parramatta Stadium, which resulted in the middle of their impressive run of victories. This loss was a throwback to their form earlier in the season as the Cowboys displayed limited commitment and as a result the Eels ran rough shot for sixty minutes before the Cowboys responded in a flurry. Thankfully for the Cowboys this loss is a distant memory and they've performed quite admirably since with a number of positives to draw upon.
While the Cowboys are recognised as one of Rugby League's most potent sides, it's their defence that has been the main highlight of season 2009. Lead by New South Wales enforcer Luke O'Donnell, Henry's men are as ruthless as they come and with such noted hitters as Steve Southern and Scott Bolton they've been able to stop even the most damaging runner clean in their tracks.
Another key ingredient in the Cowboys success has been the front row combination of Matt Scott, Aaron Payne and Shane Tronc. The colossal prop pairing carries a lot of weight about it and their work up the middle of the park has allowed one of the game's most underrated players in Aaron Payne to reek havoc around the fringes allowing the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen to weave their magic. The signings of Willie Tonga, Steve Rapira and James Tamou have also boosted the side considerably and have brought a new edge in both attack and defence. If there was one criticism you could make about the side it'd have to be the form of former International props Carl Webb and Antonio Kafusi. Once considered an Origin certainty Carl Webb is now considered one of the game's most complacent players with the ability to play either role of club hero or villain in a matter of eighty minutes. Kafusi