The reigning champions! Fresh off a maiden premiership success as a club in 2015, the big question is – can they go back-to-back? In the modern era, that never comes easily and they now have a target on their back. But with largely the same team, a host of experienced players and able youth coming through, who is to suggest that they cannot buck the trend? Though that age and experience, in the eyes of some, can often back-fire on a team. Will the Cowboys burst out of the blocks or will they travel in a crawl before picking up the pace?
It stands without question that the Cowboys are heavy favourites to challenge for the premiership once again in 2016. With a very similar roster filled with talented representative players, many across the NRL world would be shocked if they failed to make the eight.
Boasting the game’s best player in Johnathan Thurston, one of the game’s best props in Matt Scott and a host of other capable players, the Cowboys gelled well together in 2015 and will be hopeful of doing the same in 2016.
But going back-to-back has proven to be a tall order in recent years. Every year, teams get stronger and competition for spots heats up as does the overall competitiveness.
For 2016, many sides have strengthened their rosters, heaping the pressure onto the Cowboys to get off to a good start and kick-start their premiership defence in a solid manner.
That will not be an easy start, though, as in recent years, the Cowboys have been seen as notoriously slow starters, a trend they will want to buck.
Given the improvement of the previously aforementioned rivals, a slow start could have the Cowboys behind the eight ball from the word go.
Whilst everyone praises Thurston and his efforts – and rightfully so – the players around Thurston create a true team ethos and spirit.
Not superstars by any means, the likes of Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan, Jake Granville, Gavin Cooper and others, all played their role in the Cowboys maiden premiership success.
Coote, who was struck down by an ACL injury ahead of the 2014 season, bounced back immediately and was a key player in the crux of the team, chiming in from the back with his ball-playing skills and opening up the play.
It was much the same for Michael Morgan. In and out of the side in recent years, 2015 was the year that saw Morgan cement a spot and make the most of his opportunity. At times, he appeared unstoppable, almost scoring tries for fun and enjoying himself whilst doing so. Capped off with an Origin appearance for QLD, he will yet again be a catalyst for the Cowboys charge in 2016 to support Thurston.
As for Granville, his abilities were on show during early chances with the Broncos. Though no-one expected to make as seamless a transition into the Cowboys side as he did, to become a vital piece of their premiership puzzle. Surprisingly quick and nifty off the mark, his game awareness and dummy half work often set the tone for the Cowboys to move forward and gain yardage with ease. Wanting to play eighty minutes, Granville can go to the next level and move into the elite echelon of hookers.
For Cooper, often regarded by many as one of the most under-rated players in the game, he just gets better and better.
Having Thurston on your side is an added bonus but Cooper runs the lines and hits the holes at speed and with tremendous accuracy. One of his strengths in his game, it is no wonder he ends up scoring so many tries throughout the year, a feat that he will no doubt continue in 2016. In the form of his career, the accolades have often eluded Cooper, despite his strong performances over the last few years.
Ultimately, the Cowboys remain a top four side on paper and to see them miss out on a spot of that nature would come as a surprise to many.
Their roster has remained intact, their players are one year wiser and more experience and with the players they boast across the park in all positions, they will be thereabouts come finals time once more in 2016.
Most Promising Talent: He played just one NRL game and will look to play more as the
season goes on but Coen Hess is a player with a tremendous ability and a big future in the game. A strong, powerful back-rower, he has proved that he is far too good to be playing Holden Cup and will instead get the step-up and the opportunity to prove himself even more in the Intrust Super Cup for the Cowboys feeder team. With the forwards not getting any younger, it may simply be a matter of time before Hess is a mainstay in the Cowboys side and when that is the case, there will not be any half-baked attempts or lax approaches. Hess will apply himself meticulously as he seeks to improve his own game and learn off as many experienced forwards within the Cowboys organisation as possible.
2016 Gains: Shaun Hudson (Gold Coast Titans, 2017), Jahrome Hughes (2016)