Cowboys focus on top four, not top two

·3-min read

They're playing it down but North Queensland are poised to parlay their good fortune into an all-important top-two finals berth and a saloon passage through to a fairytale NRL grand final.

Many punters' pick for the wooden spoon pre-season, the Cowboys are now seemingly three 'gimme' wins away from securing second spot following Sunday's controversial 27-26 victory over Wests Tigers in Townsville.

With a far superior points differential to all their chasing rivals except Melbourne, the Cowboys can all but clinch a top-two spot - and potentially two home finals triumphs to the grand final - with wins over bottom-eight battlers St George Illawarra, Canterbury and the Warriors in a relatively soft run to the playoffs.

Todd Payten's surprise packets also face the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and defending premiers Penrith in the final round.

Three wins from their last six regular-season games would take North Queensland to 34 competition points, leaving third-placed Cronulla and fourth-placed Brisbane - both on 26 points - virtually needing to win five of their last six games, at least, to have any hope of snatching second spot.

Melbourne, with 24 points and a strong for-and-against record, would probably also need to win at least five of their last six games, to finish top two behind the runaway Panthers.

Unless the Cowboys are sensationally stripped of the two points claimed in Townsville on Sunday, South Sydney and Parramatta, both also on 24 points but with inferior for-and-against records, probably must win all their remaining six games to claim a coveted top-two position.

The Cowboys have won seven of their 10 games this year at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, so a home final against the third--placed finishers would give them a huge advantage in trying to secure a preliminary final in Townsville, too.

But co-captain Chad Townsend insists the Cowboys aren't looking beyond the top four and Sunday's clash with St George Illawarra in Sydney.

"At the moment there's no doubt we're aiming for a top-four position with the season that we've had," Townsend said on Wednesday.

"To be honest, we haven't really looked too far ahead. We've got the Dragons this Sunday in Sydney and we've got a number of things in our game that we need to improve.

"We know what's ahead of us. we can continue to build. Our coaching staff has done a great job of just really trying to narrow our focus and improve on things that we need to improve.

"So coming towards the back end of the year we're playing our best football at the right time of the season."

RUN HOME FOR THE NRL'S TOP-TWO FINALS CONTENDERS

1. PENRITH (36 POINTS, +318) v Eels (away), Raiders (a), Storm (home), Rabbitohs (a), Warriors (h), Cowboys (a)

2. NORTH QUEENSLAND (28, +182) v Dragons (a), Bulldogs (a), Roosters (a), Warriors (h) Rabbitohs (a), Panthers (h)

3. CRONULLA (26, +106) v Rabbitohs (h), Dragons (h), Tigers (a), Sea Eagles (a), Bulldogs (h), Knights (a)

4. BRISBANE (26, +83) v Tigers (h), Roosters (a), Knights (h), Storm (h), Eels (h), Dragons (a)

5. MELBOURNE (24, +165) v Warriors (a), Titans (h), Panthers (a), Broncos (a), Roosters (h), Eels (a)

6. SOUTH SYDNEY (24, +71) v Sharks (a), Warriors (h), Eels (a), Panthers (h), Cowboys (h), Roosters (a)

7. PARRAMATTA (24, +14) v Panthers (h), Sea Eagles (a), Rabbitohs (h), Bulldogs (h), Broncos (a), Storm (h)

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