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In the second of a two-part series, Rick Edgerton looks at who might be in line to win the 2017 Clive Churchill Medal as best on ground during the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
Today, it's the eighth-placed North Queensland Cowboys.
LACHLAN COOTE - Was a key figure in the Cowboys premiership two years ago and is set to step out for what will be his second decider. With Michael Morgan stepping into the shoes of Johnathan Thurston so stunningly, the underrated component of the Cowboys finals charge has been Coote stepping into Morgan's shoes. A strong ball-player and can cause damage when supporting up the middle. Should make it his mission to follow Taumololo all night.
CHANCES - A lot of the Cowboys player's odds are inflated purely on the back of them being massive underdogs to win the match, but even with that in mind Coote is way over the odds here. If you think the Cowboys can cause a boil over than the $51 is great value.
KYLE FELDT - Who could ever forget that try in the corner at this very ground in this very game two years ago? Like the majority of this Cowboys unit, plays his second Grand Final on Sunday night and will be marking up on the electric Addo-Carr.
CHANCES - Is in strong try-scoring form with 6 in his last 5 games including one in each of the three Finals matches played so far. Would probably need 4 in this match to come into contention though.
JUSTIN O'NEILL - Will run out for his 3rd decider on Sunday night with the rare achievement of tasting premiership success for both clubs taking the field (Storm 2012 & Cowboys 2015) and scored a try in both matches to boot. Two games back from injury, O'Neill has slotted onto the left side of the field where he'll lock horns with former Origin team mate Chambers.
CHANCES - Despite his record of scoring in Grand Finals, it's hard to picture him with the medal around his neck in this one.
KANE LINNETT - About to embark on his 3rd visit to the big dance after appearing in 2010 with the Roosters and two years ago for the Cowboys. Another underrated performer for his club, a great defensive player, strong worker and runs nice lines out wide to help the Cowboys structure.
CHANCES - Will play the same strong game he does week in week out, but that won't be enough to win this award.
ANTONIO WINTERSTEIN - Ready for his second tilt at Grand Final glory, this strong flanker will be looking to convert every opportunity that comes his way. Will be faced with the unenviable task of marking up on Vunivalu and will have to be ready to jump for his life whenever Cronk gets the ball on tackle 5.
CHANCES - Another who needs to be crossing the try-line more than once to come into contention.
TE MAIRE MARTIN - Running out for his first Grand Final would have been the furthest thing from this young pivots mind when he was languishing in reserve grade at Penrith earlier this year. The move to the far North mid-year has proven a masterstroke for his blossoming career and he looms as the real wildcard in this contest. Has a top notch show & go with his ability to slip his frame through the smallest of holes an asset, as evidenced in his 40 metre solo try last week.
CHANCES - He's capable and could well win the gong at some stage in his career, but this year may be a touch too soon. Might just take a while to warm into the contest.
MICHAEL MORGAN - Set for his second Grand Final appearance, Morgan has made massive strides in his career this year transforming from a very good player into one of the very best in the game after stepping into the illustrious boots of Thurston. His game management has been first class and his Finals series has been one of the best by an individual in recent memory with 4 try-assists, 5 line-break assists and 2 field goals to his name.
CHANCES - By all reports, Morgan had a conversation with opposite number Cronk during Kangaroos camp earlier in the year which was the catalyst for his progression. Would be a funny twist if it was that conversation which led to the Australian halfback's downfall on Sunday night. Morgan is the form player of this Finals series and would be odds-on if the Cowboys were given more hope of winning. Could even win the medal in a losing team, he's going that well.
SHAUN FENSOM - Named in the 17 jersey, but just like the rest of the finals will be switched into the starting team an hour before kick-off (providing Paul Green doesn't pull a swifty and in fact play Matt Scott of course). Has proven a solid contributor through the middle for his team getting about his work with a minimum of fuss.
CHANCES - Unless injuries strike and he's forced to play the 80, won't be wearing the medal.
JAKE GRANVILLE - Another vital cog in the Cowboys 2015 premiership, Granville became famous for his slashing runs out of dummy half. Has been solid enough throughout the finals, but has only run the football himself on just 3 occasions across the 3 games. Needs to take them on far more often in this match if his team are to be a chance.
ODDS - $51
CHANCES - Unless you have some Intel that he'll be running more often, the odds are about right. Passing.
SCOTT BOLTON - Another underrated cog in this unlikely finals charge has been the relentless figure of Bolton up front. With James Tamou and Ben Hannant leaving the club at the end of last year, matters were made a whole lot tougher in the engine room when Co-captain Matt Scott went down injured in round two. Whilst Taumololo has rightfully received the majority of the accolades, he wouldn't have been nearly as effective if not for Bolton's tough carries first.
ODDS - $151
CHANCES - Will no doubt toil away all night and take plenty of the tough carries, but that probably won't be enough. Might well have set himself a personal goal of outplaying his opposite in McLean who's heading to the Cowboys next year and tipped to take his jersey. If he can use that to lift beyond his usual levels could be worth throwing a spare gold coin on.
GAVIN COOPER - It can't be easy losing both your skippers and pretty inspirational ones at that and being the man charged with replacing them. Cooper, stepping out for his second Grand Final has somehow handled the role seamlessly to bring this paying group together and keep them on task despite a crippling injury toll at different stages.
CHANCES - If this medal was awarded on leadership alone he'd be every chance, but obviously there's more to it than that. Not getting as much ball without his combination with Thurston on the left edge. Very unlikely.
ETHAN LOWE - Another underrated performer set for his second visit to the big dance, though this time he'll have the pressure of kicking goals on the biggest stage. The good news is, he hasn't seemed one bit fazed by taking on that role so far and kicked a couple of gems in tight situations last week in the Preliminary Final. Will toil away all day on both sides of the ball and capable of hitting a hole off Morgan on the right edge.
CHANCES - Such is the dominance of Taumololo in this pack, it's hard to see anyone but him racking up the numbers to come into contention. Not the worst of the roughies if he can manage to jag a try and kick a couple of big goals though.
JASON TAUMOLOLO - Can't think of a more dominant season from a forward in recent history than that of this hulk's 2017 campaign. Amongst all the carnage in the Cowboys casualty ward he took it upon himself to hoist this team upon his back and carry them with him until they were fit enough again to fire some shots of their own. Averaging 252 metres throughout the finals and is well renowned for his unstoppable second stints on the paddock.
CHANCES - Just one more gut-busting 80 minute performance away from an unlikely Premiership ring, he may well hold the keys to the 2017 decider in his grasp. If the Cowboys can find a way to get the Storm's middle third players tired, Taumololo will be the man to tear them apart late in the match. His chances of winning the medal are about as big as his hulking frame. And that's BIG by the way.