His injury threatened to derail their season before it truly began, but the return of a fitter and stronger Matt Scott could be the final ingredient that turns North Queensland's dream of a second premiership into a reality.
Written off from playing again in 2017 when he ruptured his ACL playing against the Broncos back in Round 2, Scott is a shock selection on the Cowboys’ extended bench for their preliminary final showdown with the Roosters on Saturday night.
Considered next to no chance of returning in time to take part in the Kangaroos’ World Cup campaign from late October, Scott has been running on alternate days in recent weeks as his rehabilitation has progressed, but says it is the work he has done in the gym that promises to deliver the greatest rewards.
Whether he makes a timely return in this finals series, is selected for the World Cup or waits until Round 1 next season, Scott told NRL.com he has built a foundation that will enable him to get back to his bullocking best when he next runs out.
“It's been a great chance to work on some fundamentals physically, stuff that I haven't been able to work on for probably eight to 10 years,” Scott said of his six-month layoff.
“Going back to basics, getting some good running under my belt, getting a few kilometres in my legs and also some strength work in the gym that I've missed out on a lot.
“Hopefully physically I'll be a bit stronger and a bit fitter and getting back to a couple of years ago pre a few off-season surgeries where I was in a little bit better shape.
“It will be interesting to see how it relates on the field when I do return, but I think it's going to be for the better.”
Contracted to the Cowboys for a further two seasons, the 32-year-old Queensland and Australia representative believes that not only will the physical gains he has made this year allow him to finish his career strongly, but perhaps even extend it.
“A break will do me the world of good and mentally and physically,” Scott said. “Hopefully that does extend my career and does make the back-end of my career a bit better in quality than it may have been.
“I was battling to get through the last couple of years towards the back-end, but in saying that I felt surprisingly good during the Four Nations last year in the UK.
“Mal (Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga) was really good training-wise and off the field during that tournament and I had a rest for one of the games and I felt really good in the pre-season this year as well.
“You have a break [at the end of a season] and then get rushed through pre-season to get you ready to play, but you don't get to go back to the basics.
“I've been able to do that and I think the body is definitely thanking me for it.
“The other side is probably a good understanding of the game. I've watched a fair few games from the coaches' box and getting that different perspective has been a real eye opener for me.
“Again, hopefully that helps my leadership and game management on the field when I do return.”