Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 8: North Queensland Cowboys

We’re halfway through and it’s part 8 that comes to you today, on the North Queensland Cowboys. Talented players have never been an issue for the Cowboys but execution has in the past couple of years. Granted, they had crucial decisions go against them during finals games but inconsistency has cost them at times. With their leader Johnathan Thurston fit and firing, the Cowboys will once again be up there and in with a chance.

GAINS: Hezron Murgha (Northern Pride) Lachlan Coote (Penrith Panthers) Cam King (St George Illawarra Dragons) John Asiata (Sydney Roosters) Matthew Wright (Cronulla Sharks)

The Cowboys were not as active in the transfer market as some other teams but with the players already at their disposal, there was no need to be.
With a heap of promise surrounding the fullback position and the likelihood that Lachlan Coote was going to play in that role, injury reared its ugly head as the former Panthers fullback will have to wait until next year to make his Cowboys debut, after suffering a ruptured ACL injury during the pre-season.

The last two years have been like a roller-coaster for the Cowboys. Slow starts to the season but kicking on and performing like an elite side after Origin. With their inspirational leader and representative half Johnathan Thurston admitting that he has started poorly in the past few years, he is keen to rectify that and if he gets firing early on, the rest of the competition may want to watch out.
Thurston is not the only one with a point to prove, though, with most of the Cowboys outfit keen to get off on the right foot and cement their spots in the side.

When you have a player like Thurston, the spotlight is more often on him than it is on other players but with a talented playing roster across the board and a score of talented juniors at their disposal, if the Cowboys are to stake their premiership credentials in season 2014, Thurston needs support and stability from his team-mates and he needs it consistently.

The notion of stability does not get easier, with at least three to four potential candidates for both the fullback role and the halfback role, neither of which has been decided upon by coach Paul Green. With talented youngsters like Curtis Rona and Zac Santo vying for spots in their respective positions or more experienced players like Matt Wright and Michael Morgan, the decision as to who will eventually get the nod is not an easy one for Green but one that Cowboys fans hope is the best possible outcome and the best possible decision moving forward.

With such a competition for spots and the media jumping on the speculation train and spitting out article after article as to who will or will not play in certain positions, fans and media appear to have glossed over the other talented players the Cowboys have at their disposal and just how well they can potentially perform in 2014.

One crucial player for the Cowboys is back-rower Gavin Cooper. Perhaps one of the most under-rated players in the game, Cooper is at the point in his career where taking on a leadership role is something that he should be prepared and ready for and embrace early on. Although he is not old by rugby league standards, he has so far enjoyed a relatively successful career in the NRL and his experience and versatility are crucial for the Cowboys moving forward. Apart from Glenn Hall, he is probably the most experienced back-rower at the club and with a strong combination that has been on show for some years with Thurston in attack, he will look to continue it and take it to the next level.

On the flip side of the coin, there is one up-and-comer who has a chance to cement a spot of his own and he is also a back-rower.
That player, is Jason Taumalolo. Destructive when at his best, the sheer strength, power and acceleration of Taumalolo is what often catches defenders off-guard and as a result, he barges through defensive lines with relative ease. The wraps by fans and the media are there and have been there since his early days as an NRL player but now, a few years on and a few years older, the expectation is even greater for the hulking, young lad, as he looks to make one of the 17 spots in first-grade his own. If his head is right, if he plays to his potential and if he can link up well with his team-mates and especially Thurston on the fringes, we may just see some of the most destructive power running in recent NRL history.

All in all, as you would expect, the Cowboys are a side that are expected to be towards the top of the ladder. With a new fresh approach implemented by Green and one that the players seem to enjoy and look forward to, on paper, they should succeed. Of course, games are not won on paper, and the big question for the Cowboys is – can Paul Green – a relative rookie coach in the world of the NRL – bring the best out of the side moving forward?

Player To Watch: Zac Santo. If there is one player coming through the ranks that Cowboys fans are most excited about – at least most of them – it would have to be Zac Santo. Even if you are not a Cowboys fan and you haven’t seen just how talented Santo is as a player, you are missing out. Blessed with a natural ability to play the game, fantastic acceleration and speed and ball skills to boot – he is a legitimate craftsman and jack of all trades when it comes to his all-round game. Although he may not possess the power and strength that other fullbacks have, they are traits that he does need, as he uses his speed, quick feet and game awareness to make breaks and create opportunities. If he happens to get the nod in first-grade at the vacant fullback position, keep your eye on him because if he forms a partnership with Thurston, it will be deadly for opposition teams.

Here’s the team I’d go with:

1. Zac Santo
2. Antonio Winterstein
3. Brent Tate
4. Kane Linnett
5. Matt Wright
6. Johnathan Thurston (C)
7. Michael Morgan
8. Matt Scott
9. Ray Thompson
10. James Tamou
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Jason Taumalolo
13. Joel Reithmuller

14. Tariq Sims
15. Glenn Hall
16. Ashton Sims
17. Rory Kostjaysn

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