It’s time for Cowboys' big guns to earn their money

LIKE many rugby league fans, I love watching Matty Bowen play.

Even at 31 years of age and in the twilight of his career, he remains one of the most exciting runners of the football in the NRL.

Bowen is off contract at the end of this season, his 13th in the NRL.

Although there have been suggestions he may head to England to finish his career, it seems incomprehensible that the little bloke from Cape York will cop that weather, even though the bulk of the English season is played during their summer.

But the Cowboys seem reluctant to sign him just yet, which may well be a team tactic rather than a personal reflection on the courageous and electrifying fullback.

Given their roster, at season's start the Cowboys were considered certainties to figure in finals football.

Most good judges tipped them to finish in the top four and many considered this their best chance in years to go better than their only grand final appearance, in 2005.

And while the season may only be relatively young, the cold hard facts are that the Cowboys have failed to reach those anticipated heights.

A train of thought exists that securing some of their big guns to long-term deals earlier in the year may well have created an unconscious comfort zone.

Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou and Matt Scott were on the radar of other clubs and the Cowboys had to fight hard - and produce big dollars - to keep them in Townsville.

On the back of those signings the club also extended the contract of coach Neil Henry for another year - until the end of 2014.

While the Cowboys sit just inside the top eight and have a 50% record this season, at no stage have they given the impression they can match it with the big guns.

From what we have seen they are playing nowhere near their potential and are a middle-of-the-table team.

Tonight is their opportunity to step up to the plate.

The Rabbitohs are riding roughshod over everyone and while looking the real deal, they are certainly not unbeatable.

But for the Cowboys to win, their big names - on the big money - will need to pull their weight because, in essence, this is an under-performing team of stars, rather than a star team. Being paid the big money is one thing - earning it is another matter altogether.

Welcome empathy

SINCE it became big business and no longer a sport, rugby league has evolved in to a dog-eat-dog state of affairs. Players are on guard to such an extent that rarely do we hear them offer much more than veiled criticism or limp praise of an opponent.

So it was refreshing during the week when Ben Hannant delivered a heartfelt few words of relief when Paul Gallen was cleared of what initially appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Hannant said no one understood better than the players what their fellow competitors put in to a pre-season campaign, and there was nothing worse than having that shot down by injury.

"I'm really pleased for him that it's not a serious injury," said the Broncos prop, who should be opposing the Blues skipper during the upcoming Origin series.

It's a shame Hannant's former teammate, Israel Folau, can't be as sincere. So disingenuous was the code hopper in a recent interview, he used the words "and I really meant it" when speaking about how much he was enjoying rugby union.

The dogs continue to bark, however, that Folau will be back playing rugby league next year.

Does crime pay?

SERIAL offender Josh Dugan looks headed back to the NRL and hopefully he can toe the line and kick-start a floundering career.

But while Dugan's future remains a query, his boofhead-in-arms, Blake Ferguson, appears to be on the road to ultimate redemption with a Blues' Origin call-up. Injuries to Brett Morris and Brett Stewart have the southern experts calling for the errant Ferguson to fill a wing void.

While winning is obviously of great importance, if Ferguson was selected in front of Nathan Merritt or Akuila Uate, a confusing message about acceptable behaviour may be sent.

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