COWBOYS forward Gavin Cooper admits the pressure on the team to perform will only be magnified this year after their undermanned side shocked the rugby league world by making the grand final.
And co-captain Matt Scott has urged the support cast to continue to relish the extra responsibility and avoid "taking the foot off the pedal" now their injured superstars are back.
The Cowboys refused to use the loss of co-captains Scott (knee) and Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) for most of the season as an excuse, defying the NRL's biggest injury toll to make the decider.
But with Scott and Thurston back on deck, plus the acquisition of Kangaroos World Cup prop Jordan McLean, Cooper knows the heat is on to perform.
The fact it's Thurston's swan song season will only add to the pressure cooker, with the Cowboys $6 second favourites behind the Roosters for the premiership on UBET.
"I know what we did last year was unexpected, but now we've done that the expectation on us (now we're) getting the boys back is going to be even bigger," Cooper said.
"It (expectation) will be all from the outside, but we held our standards to where we thought they should be all this year and it got us to the end.
"(We fell) one hurdle short, but we got there and it was no surprise for us, we worked really hard to put us in that position.
"We all saw what Morgo (Michael Morgan) and Jase (Jason Taumalolo) were able to do, what we were able to do in the last half of the season, and I'm positive it will bring something extra to the team.
"What it did for Bolts' (prop Scott Bolton's) game, there was a lot of guys who stood up in the tough times last year and I think we're going to need that and more next year."
Cooper took over the captaincy role in Thurston and Scott's absence, and earned praise for his leadership ability.
"I've worked with a lot of different group over my career and one thing I think I do really well is I know how to connect with all different types of people," Cooper said.
"Whether it be the young guys or the rookies or the older guys or coaches, even different ethnic groups, we've got Samoans and Tongans and that's something that may have stood out last year."
"I still speak when I think something needs to be said and even if there's a message not coming from me, I may tip one of them (captains) up to say it.
"But having those guys back is just another couple of voices the boys need to hear."
Scott said it's crucial the Cowboys don't fall into the trap of taking a back seat and expecting the likes of Thurston and McLean to shoulder the load.
"You get back someone like JT and Jordan comes into the side, there is that temptation for everyone to take the foot off the pedal a little bit," Scott said.
"If we can get guys that performed so well this year to do it next year, then get those guys here on the back of it, it bodes will for the team."