With the 2015 NRL Grand Final to take place over the long weekend, there has been a great deal of talk over the key characters. Johnathon Thurston, of course, is the major player – and virtually everything hinges on his performance, without a doubt. Michael Morgan has been an incredible foil for Thurston this season, creating enough structural freedom for Thurston to show just how dynamic he can be. Their opposition in the enigmatic Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford will certainly create a fantastic contest – and that’s without considering the tough and experienced forward packs both sides boast.
Rightfully, there has been a great deal of admiration distributed the way of Thurston and Morgan, but there’s a third creative weapon in the Cowboys arsenal that hasn’t received quite as much praise as the year has passed – fullback Lachlan Coote.
It’s not altogether surprising that Coote seems a small name in a big lineup. He hasn’t played State of Origin, nor has he represented Australia. His biggest representative honours are two showings in the New South Wales City side in 2010 and 2012. Coote has been a face in the NRL for much longer than it would seem in recent memory, making his first-grade debut for the Penrith Panthers in Round 16, 2008, for the injured Rhys Wesser. Wesser returned from injury the very next round, while Coote was relegated to playing on the wing for the remainder of the season. He went on to be named NRL Rookie of The Year.
In 2009, he was able to seize the fullback role at the Panthers with permanency, but what was to be his first full season was cut short by injury. This was the beginning of what would be an unfortunate pattern for Coote. While he played a full season in 2010, he struggled with abdominal inflammation throughout, limiting his capability. His 2011 off-season was committed to surgery for the condition, and the subsequent recovery. The back-end of 2012 proved crucial for the talent that Coote exhibits today, when he played at five-eighth at the behest of new coach Ivan Cleary. Coote showed plenty of potential in the position, both with his running and passing game. His knack for forecasting the movements of players all over the park became obvious. 2013 was again cruelled by injury, beginning in round 2. This set into motion a series of events that created the conditions for Coote to play in this year’s big game.
In round 7 of the same year, Matt Moylan debuted for the Panthers in Coote’s position of fullback, quickly excelling in the position throughout the year. By the time Coote returned in round 22, a release from the last year of his contract was already on the cards, with Moylan’s prodigious talent coming with a much lower price tag. Enter the North Queensland Cowboys.
Coote’s first year at the Cowboys was cruelled by the inaugural Auckland 9s, when he tore his ACL, ending his season before it had begun.
The tide seems to finally have turned in Coote’s favour. In his first year alongside a strong roster, he has played no small part in their success. His statistics for the year show that he has 78 tackle breaks to opposing fullback Darius Boyd’s 32, 14 try assists to Boyd’s 8, and 13 line breaks to Boyd’s 5 – all while making only slightly less metres per game on average, with 137 metres to Boyd’s 142. What Coote lacks in experience, he makes up for in spades with raw talent and a knack for seeing what’s coming next. Doubters beware: Cowboys have a third half on the field.