The Cowboys are set to lose coach Graham Murray at the end of this season, the NRL coach who has taken them from easy beats to consistent performers, peaking with a Grand Final appearance in 2005. The North Queensland Cowboys have also been plauged by player misbehaviour in recent times; with several big names including Jonathan Thurston getting into strife. So will a team in coaching limbo still remain a force in 2008 NRL?
The Cowboys have managed to retain the majority of the team that went within one game of making the premiership decider in 2007, the talented squad will be striving to take that next step in 2008. Despite losing some notable players during the off season, the Cowboys have recruited smartly. Former NRL and Canterbury centre Ben Harris returns to Australia to replace the retired Paul Bowman, and the halves pairing of ex-Manly pivot Travis Burns and Johnathan Thurston could see the Cowboys host one of the most lethal halves combinations in the competition.
For mine, the only thing stopping the Cowboys from cementing a top four position, will be the unavailability of Thurston for at least the first month of the premiership. North Queensland are notorious for bursting out of the blocks at the start of each year, but without the worldâ€™s best half steering them around, the Cowboys could well be behind the pack cum Round 6 (Thurstonâ€™s expected return).
The Cowboys seemingly possess talent in every position, and it would be a real shock to see them miss the top four. North Queensland have speed to burn in the outside backs, a creative set of halves, bullocking props and workaholic backrowers â€“ they are pretty much a coaches dream.
The modern day Cowboys continue to play an exciting and expansive football, in recent times the Cowboys have had the ability to lay on a try from anywhere on the field. The blistering temperatures of Dairy Farmers Stadium, North Queensland is yet another major advantage for the Cowboys, with visiting rivals often struggling to overpower the acclimatised home team.
The Cowboys attacking qualities of 2007 certainly overshadowed their defensive abilites, Graham Murrayâ€™s men ending the year as the 13th worst defensive unit. Injuries playing a big part last year with several big name forwards unavailable at crucial times, but seven of the Cowboys ten season losses were against fellow semi-finalists. The Cowboys will need to improve their defence if they hope to compete against the top sides.
2008 Likely NRL Starting Side:
1- Matt Bowen
2- Ty Williams
3- Ashley Graham
4- Ben Harris
5- Ben Farrar
6- Travis Burns
7- Johnathan Thurston
8- Shane Tronc
9- Aaron Payne
10- Carl Webb
11- Steve Southern
12- Sione Faumuina
13- Luke Oâ€™Donnell
14- David Faiumu
15- Jacob Lillyman
16- Ray Cashmere
17â€“ Matthew Scott
2008 NRL Pre-Season Trial Matches:
16/02/08 v Brisbane Broncos @ Browne Park, Rockhampton
23/02/08 v Gold Coast Titans @ Barlow Park, Cairns
01/03/0/8 v Canberra Raiders @ Brothers RL Club, Mackay
2008 Acquisitions and Departures:
Travis Burns (Manly), John Williams (Sydney Roosters), Ben Harris (Bradford), Dayne Weston and Anthony Watts (Cronulla), Anthony Perkins (Melbourne)
Paul Bowman, Scott Minto and Jason Smith (retired), Brenton Bowen (Gold Coast), Justin Smith (released), Shane Muspratt (QLD Cup), Neil Sweeney (Macquarie, Newcastle)