Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: North Queensland Cowboys

Part 10 is here and it is all about the NRL previews for the North Queensland Cowboys.

No more Johnathan Thurston to call upon, so just who can step up and fill the huge void left by him?

Are the Cowboys on the rebound or is another mediocre season on the cards? They have a good team but can they be a great team?

Bye, bye, Thurston

Perhaps the biggest single loss for a team in the off-season, 2018 saw the retirement of Johnathan Thurston.

A larger-than-life character on and off the field, known just as much for his ability on the field as his laugh off it, the Cowboys will miss him.

In many instances, he was the glue to the side. When they seemed down and out, he used every ounce of experience to get his side back. To salvage something.

Former North Queensland Cowboys halfback and captain Johnathan Thurston

Of course, doing so does not always result in victory but the Cowboys could always count on Thurston to get them in the picture.

And so, with the great Cowboy now no longer around as a player, what does it mean for the club moving forward?

The ability and talent of Michael Morgan will never go unnoticed. He now looms as the club’s go-to man to lead the side.

That is not foreign territory to him, either, and he has been around the club setup for many years and so the challenge may not phase him.

Just as Morgan is looking to become the main man, a young gun is looking to become his able, adept and accurate right-hand man in Jake Clifford.

Clifford impressed late in 2018 and proved that if given time and a chance to play his natural game, that he could slowly bridge the gap to cover Thurston’s loss.

A very dynamic player, Clifford has come through the club system before playing for feeder side, the Northern Pride.

North Queensland Cowboys half Jake Clifford

That experience gave him some starch and mettle, as he carries his weight around like a forward but has the finesse of a quality half.

If he and Morgan play in tandem and complement each other’s games, it could be a surprise combination in terms of effectiveness.

Of course, we have to wait and see how that pans out in 2019 and whether the two are even starting in the halves.

The fullback conundrum

The 2019 fullback spot was meant to be all about Ben Barba and his triumphant return to the NRL.

Of course, that did not pan out, after Barba was sacked by the Cowboys for assaulting his partner.

So, really, that leaves three options for the Cowboys and the custodian role.

All have played in the role before and although it might seem a foregone conclusion as to who will get it, analysing it is nevertheless intriguing.

Firstly, Michael Morgan. Morgan’s career started out at fullback where he quickly made a name for himself.

Soon transitioning into the halves, though, Morgan found his feet alongside Thurston and has mentioned above, it is now his time to shine individually.

Another candidate is Ben Hampton. The livewire utility is slated for a centre spot this year with the departure of Kane Linnett, another position not foreign to him.

The beauty of having he and Jordan Kahu, is that the two are interchangeable when it comes to covering both fullback and centre.

No strangers to either position, that versatility can work in the Cowboys favour depending on their opposition or the game situation.

Kahu, who has recently joined the Cowboys following Barba’s sacking, is expected to nab the fullback role if you believe some reports.

Either way, assessing their options shows that the Cowboys have the depth in the custodian position should further issues of any sort arise.

Return of the Hess?

It could have been a slow burn for Coen Hess and his NRL career but he burst on the scenes like a bat out of hell.

His break-out year in 2017 saw him given an Origin berth and many had him slated for similar honours and consistency in 2018.

A whopping 13 tries for a back-rower in 2017, Hess quickly gained a reputation as a potential elite back-rower moving forward.

However, in 2018, his form regressed somewhat, much to the chagrin of Cowboys fans.

The errors crept in, the fluidity with try-scoring became less frequent and his impact became stagnated.

North Queensland Cowboys back-rower Coen Hess

With a new season, however, and the need for the Cowboys to reverse their fortunes, now is a chance for Hess to shine again.

A chance to produce the dynamism that saw Cowboys and Queensland fans alike raving about his performances.

A hard-running, try-scoring Hess, gives the Cowboys every chance to succeed in the 2019 season.

2019 Gains and Losses

Gains: Kurt Baptiste (Sydney Roosters, 2019), Dan Russell (2020), Tom Opacic (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Nene Macdonald (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021) and Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos, 2022).

Losses: Lachlan Coote (St Helens RLFC), Shaun Fensom (Brisbane Broncos) and Kane Linnett (Hull Kingston Rovers). Johnathan Thurston and Antonio Winterstein (both retired). Sam Hoare, Josh Chudleigh, Shaun Hudson and Kyle Laybutt (all released).

Player to Watch

Slowly impressing Cowboys fans, Enari Tuala has a chance to cement an early first-grade spot in 2019.

A local product, the centre looked the goods when given chances in first-grade, albeit sporadically.

Though with a spot open following Kane Linnett’s departure, has he done enough to impress Paul Green.

A young man with plenty to prove and a big future ahead of him, the stage is set for him to succeed.

All he needs is the opportunity to become a mainstay and prove why he deserves the spot.

NRL News Predicted Line-up

  1. Jordan Kahu
  2. Kyle Feldt
  3. Ben Hampton
  4. Justin O’Neill
  5. Nene Macdonald
  6. Jake Clifford
  7. Michael Morgan
  8. Matt Scott (C)
  9. Jake Granville
  10. Josh McGuire
  11. Gavin Cooper
  12. Coen Hess
  13. Jason Taumalolo

14. Ben Hampton
15. Mitch Dunn*
16. Jordan McLean
17. Corey Jensen

*Due to Scott Bolton’s reported and likely suspension from an assault in 2018.

Coach: Paul Green

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *