More than halfway through as we go over the North Queensland Cowboys in this preview. Will it be another case of close but no cigar for the Cowboys, or is 2015 the year that they can finally capture their elusive premiership? Once again, Johnathan Thurston is the key but with some handy additions to their squad, he may not have to go it alone.
Although on the surface, it may appear in stone, one position subject to a lot of debate among Cowboys fans and the NRL, is the fullback role. It was all but set to be given to Lachlan Coote before the 2014 season started but after tragically injuring his ACL during the inaugural Auckland Nines, it allowed Michael Morgan to move to the back where he excelled. So much so, that it gave the Cowboys another genuine ball-player to set up and create tries and opportunities, much like Matt Bowen used to do at the club.
Fast forward to 2015 and with Coote back seemingly fitter and healthier, the early reports suggest that it is he who will get the fullback role he was initially going to, shifting Michael Morgan back into the halves alongside Thurston.
In addition to that, on the subject of halves, the Cowboys are blessed with a plethora of first-grade halves that can cover multiple positions. If need be, the likes of Robert Lui and Ray Thompson can and will fill in should players be missing due to injury, suspension or Origin. With Morgan moving back to the halves, it essentially prevents one of Thompson or Lui from playing, or even both. Both have talent within their own rights but have come under fire from Cowboys fans, with the majority seeming to agree with the potential move of Morgan back into the halves. That said, the duo can also play hooker, which then presents a whole new dilemma for coach Paul Green.
To say that the hooker position at the North Queensland Cowboys is congested, would be an understatement. With Thompson and Lui, in addition to Rory Kostjaysn and Jake Granville, it will prove to be one giant headache for Green heading into the 2015 season.
Does he play just the one hooker or does he go with one off the bench? And if he does play one off the bench, does he go for the genuine interchange hooker in Granville or the player that can cover the halves if need be in Robert Lui? Based purely on his utility value, you would imagine that Kostjaysn is the one to get the nod – given he can play hooker, five-eighth, back-row and lock – but in the NRL, anything is possible. If you were coach, who would you name at hooker?
A big question with the Cowboys is whether they can go all the way and capture an elusive maiden premiership. An argument could be made to suggest that they have been unlucky in crucial games over the last few years and if they won, who knows what might have happened. Though that is in the past and if the Cowboys are to succeed, they have to take control of their own destiny, move on from the controversy and play to the calibre of footy we know they are capable of. With Thurston obviously the star, he will need the players around him to step up and take some of the pressure off him and as always, the Cowboys have players like that at their disposal.
With creativity at fullback and halfback in Coote and Morgan, speed in the backs with Justin O’Neill and Antonio Winterstein, power and experience in the forward pack with Matt Scott and James Tamou, the Cownoys are set for a charge towards a successful season. Of course, a lot depends on whether they can get over some early season jitters of past years, often leaving them with hard work in order to make the finals. If they can consolidate the wins early with the players at their disposal and have themselves in a good position come the start of the Origin period, they can go onto bigger and better things, given the depth they have.
Best Buy: All clubs lose forward depth but very rarely do you get to find a ready-made, experienced replacement like Ben Hannant. Nicknamed the Polar Bear, the bullocking prop has always been known for running hard, hitting hard and making an impact on the field. With several props in particular departing the club, the signing of Hannant gives the Cowboys pack further starch both from the bench and in general. With Scott and Tamou working in tandem as a starting duo, Hannant can then continue to lay the platform with hard running of his own, as the Cowboys look to physically dominate teams with the runs through the middle of the ruck. He adds further punch to an already impressive looking forward pack at the Cowboys.
Most Promising Talent: When you watch any young player during their early career, you get an inkling as to whether they are good enough to make it or not. Watching Viliame Kikau, you just know he has the tools to become a quality first-grade prop. Hulking but lanky, Kikau has enjoyed a couple of stellar seasons with the Cowboys Holden Cup side and has proved to be tough to handle for most defences. A powerhouse of a player and runner, close to the line, there is perhaps no young prop that is harder to stop than Kikau. Although the overall forward depth at the Cowboys is somewhat good, Kikau needs to continue to develop and take that sort of form into the QLD Cup. Should he do so and should he make the impact everyone knows he can, it is only a matter of time before he makes a first-grade debut.
2015 Gains: Jake Granville (Brisbane Broncos), Ben Hannant (Brisbane Broncos), Kyle McConnell (2016), Tautau Moga (Mid Season: Sydney Roosters), Justin O’Neill (Melbourne Storm), Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels)
Our predicted line-up:
1. Lachlan Coote
2. Antonio Winterstein
3. Justin O’Neill
4. Kane Linnett
5. Kyle Feldt
6. Johnathan Thurston (C)
7. Michael Morgan
8. Matt Scott (C)
9. Rory Kostjaysn
10. James Tamou
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Jason Taumalolo
13. Glenn Hall
14. Jake Granville
15. Scott Bolton
16. Ben Hannant
17. Ethan Lowe