Mar 08, 2018 09:26 PM
Author: Alex Christodoulou
JT set to go out with a bang
Key Ins: Jordan McLean (Storm)
Key Outs: Kalyn Ponga (Knights), Patrick Kaufusi (Storm)
Despite being ravaged by injuries, the North Queensland Cowboys produced a herculean effort to make the finals in 2017 after sneaking into 8th position in the final round of the season. The team from Townsville weren't done there, as they went on an incredible run all the way to the Grand Final, spearheaded by the miraculous Michael Morgan. After knocking off the Sharks, Parramatta and the highly rated Roosters, the Cowboys' dream was ended only by the sheer excellence of the Melbourne Storm. You would struggle to name a sporting club in Australia who has demonstrated as much courage, fight, unity and grit than the Cowboys did in 2017.
This unwavering determination and never-say-die attitude isn't a recent phenomenon in North Queensland, with the Cowboys not missing out on finals footy since 2010. Of course, you may say, this is due to Jonathan Thurston, one of the greatest Rugby League player of all time. Yes, I repeat, the Cowboys can definitely owe much of their success to the immortal JT. But last year there was no Thurston or inspirational front-rower and captain Matt Scott, and still they managed to make it through to the "big dance".
Michael Morgan was ridiculously good, revealing a hitherto obscured talent and composure that must in part be attributed to osmosis, after playing most of his career with Thurston. But he can also thank his industrious forward pack, and in particular, the game's best forward and other "JT", Jason Taumololo. Taumololo is one of the league's true wrecking balls, and consistently chalks up the most running meters, smashing all comers last year with 5,350m.
And yet the Cows are a team for which you can chuck the stats sheet out the window, into the skip, and then off to the tip. It is their uncompromising effort that sets them apart from the rest and with this year being Thurston's swan song, expect them to go all the way.
Player to watch: Coen Hess had a breakout 2017, impressing so much that he earned a spot in the Queensland Origin team. Only 21-years-old, he averaged over 100 meters per game, whilst often starting on the bench. If he can eliminate the odd error from his game, he will become another damaging forward for the Cowboys' stock.
Key Player: When you have the greatest player of all time on your list, there can't be any other choice. Thurston will look to make every post a winner in his farewell year, and it will be a sheer joy for every fan of Rugby League to watch him go around one last time.
Forward pack rating 10/10
With the best forward in the game who requires at least three players to bring him to the ground, the Cows are predictably strong in the middle of the park. Factoring in Matt Scott's return from injury, the signing of big Jordan McLean fresh off a premiership victory with the Storm, as well as the ever-reliable Ethan Lowe and Gavin Cooper in the second row, and the Cowboys are saturated with forward pack riches. Don't forget Hess and co. off the bench.
Outside backs rating 8/10
The strength here lies with their superb centres Justin O'Neill and Kane Linnet. With the similarly accomplished Kyle Feldt and Antonio Winterstein on the flanks, the Cowboys' backs will be flying again this year.
Spine rating 10/10
Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan, Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston. Any way you say it will send shudders down opposing spines. Of course Lachlan Coote at fullback and Jake Granville at hooker shouldn't be dismissed, as they are excellent competitors who could play in any team. But the Cowboys will be looking at their halves to bring them glory this year.
||Even key injuries didn't stop them last year.