The Central Queensland Capras know they cannot compare this year’s finals campaign to last year’s series – but they certainly know they can learn from it.
The Lionel Harbin-coached team will this Sunday play host to Sunshine Coast Falcons in a must-win semi-final showdown at Rockhampton’s Browne Park.
This is the same stage of finals the Capras made last year, as their hopes were ended at the hands of the Burleigh Bears, going down 32-16 at the Gold Coast.
Central Queensland hooker Trey Brown played in that 2022 loss and said that experience, plus last Saturday’s Finals Week 1 loss - also to the Bears – served as a learning curve for the Capras who are chasing the club’s first premiership.
“We try not to compare the years,” Brown said.
“It’s been two very different journeys. We didn’t have some of the obstacles of injuries and other different aspects to what we’ve had this year.
“But we’ve all learnt from last year. A few of us have definitely matured in terms of knowing what we need to do to win big games and we’ve shown that through the season.
“We’ve won games where we had our backs against the walls… it’s all about how we respond as a group.
“Probably the biggest takeaway from last week as well is the way the Bears played, that’s what finals footy is all about.
“They went up a couple gears in the second half and we didn’t make the adjustment to go with them.”
Brown counts himself among the players at the Capras that have matured.
The 25-year-old – who made his Cup debut in 2019 – has been in some of his career-best form throughout 2023 and was one of the leading contenders for the Petero Civoniceva Medal before voting went behind closed doors after Round 12.
While he still believes his game has room for improvement, he said under the guidance of Harbin and the rest of the coaching staff, he knew he had been a stronger player.
“This has been my first year where I’ve gotten my body to the position it needs to be and in making sure I’m ticking all the right boxes,” Brown said.
“That’s a big credit to our performance staff and Lionel himself, consistently pushing us through pre-season and giving us a base to work off.
“I was lucky enough to play my 50th game this year for the club and that’s when you start to mature a little bit.
“I don’t think about the games as early on as much this year. I’m more focused… that’s been instilled with Lionel especially.
“He certainly makes it a player-driven environment and when we drive the standards of training and what we think is acceptable on and off the field, then you need to be more confident and stand on your own two feet rather than wait for someone else to tell you what to do.
“There’s still a lot for me to get right overall. It’s never a perfected craft. I’ve been a lot more consistent this year and that was one of my goals coming into this 2023 season.
“I’ve been able to do that working on those effort areas during the games. It’s not always going to be the flashy play. If I can do my job and have my teammates around me, it helps.”
Match: Capras v Falcons
Finals Week 2 -
Venue: Browne Park, Rockhampton
One thing Brown has certainly learnt in his time in Rockhampton – especially since moving up from New South Wales where he grew up – is the importance of the Central Queensland community.
This Sunday’s semi-final will be played on the Capras’ home turf, with Browne Park known across the competition as one of the most hostile environments in the Hostplus Cup.
It will certainly give the Capras an edge as they look to advance to a week three meeting with the Brisbane Tigers and continue that push for their first premiership.
“Coming up here I’ve learnt very quickly how the community supports us and that fans have been here through the hard times and are now reaping the rewards of success on the field,” Brown said.
“It’s such a tight-knit community in Rockhampton and Central Queensland in the wider sense. It’s always a positive thing about the Capras.
“It’s proven every time we play at Browne Park – we get a good crowd, good atmosphere and it is a hard place for teams to come and play and we put that down to our fans and the hostile environment they create.
“One of our core values is leaving a legacy for this club – making it a better place than what’s come before you.
“There’s no better way to do that than win the first premiership for this club. I think it’s overdue for this community in terms of how much they’ve supported us and how much they want it.
“You can feel that sense of achievement already, making the top four this year. To go one better would be a huge thing for this community.”