Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: Melbourne Storm

A perennial powerhouse of the NRL for the better part of a decade, many have made the argument that the Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side during that period. As we look to 2017, however, there are some question marks around the team and the make-up of it. Will it affect them for better or for worse? Will their players adapt to shifting positions? 

Perhaps the major question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Billy Slater will actually start the season. The last 18 months for the entertaining fullback has been dogged with shoulder injuries and surgeries, obviously limiting both his time on the field and his time at training.
To the untrained eye, one might believe that because he is yet to feature in a trial game for the Storm, that it might mean he will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover. The NRL is a funny game, though, and if he and coach Craig Bellamy believe he can handle the rigours of the game once more, he may yet return for Rd 1. To find out, we will have to wait until team lists are released for Rd 1 which is a couple of weeks yet. Should he not play, you would expect that Cam Munster will continue in the role that he performed so well in last year.

With that in mind, though – and this brings us to the next point on the Storm – is that Cam Munster has been slated with a move to 5/8 for the 2016 season. A gifted runner and playmaker in his own right, many believe that Munster would make a seamless transition into the role and support elite halfback, Cooper Cronk. Of course, he is not the only option that is available to the club or coach Craig Bellamy. Gaining traction is young gun Brodie Croft who has impressed many with the effortless nature to which he has come into the first-grade arena via trials and the Auckland Nines.
Looking comfortable in the roles given to him, Croft has been slated as a starter for a while now and if he gets the nod, there will be no better halfback to play alongside to develop his game and nurture than Cooper Cronk.

Another interesting aspect of the Storm setup in the 2017 season is finding the direct replacement in the back-row for Kevin Proctor. The first name that springs to mind is Kenny Bromwich. Playing as the impact back-rower off the bench, he has made himself known as a solid player that runs hard and provides punch and power. With a chance now ahead of him to start and increase his minutes, he looms as the favourite to move into the role and based on his first-grade experience, you would expect him to get the nod.
One other surprising candidate whose name has emerged is Joe Stimson. Having come through the Storm ranks, he knows the expectations of the club and how he has to perform and to date, he has done that well. A key player in every team he has so far played in, he is a tremendous line-runner and is even a smokey for a bench role. Should his opportunity not come at the start of the season, it is just a matter of time before Stimson does get one and in the eyes of Storm fans, it will be just desserts.

In the end, you would expect, as usual, that the Storm will have a solid season and end up in the top four. Such is the nature of their side with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jesse Bromwich, as well as the emergence of Cam Munster and other players, the Storm side is well equipped to deal with whatever might be thrown their way. With coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to extract the best out of his players, their consistency levels remain at a high and more often than not, they always find a way to win and perform.

Best buy: Signing mostly depth players, the one signing that stands out is that of Josh Addo-Carr. A tremendously pacey winger, Addo Carr is nicknamed ‘the Fox’ and has a chance to not only get an opportunity but to hold down the fort and retain that wing spot for many games to come. Tigers fans were disappointed to see him go and it was the Storm who acted the swiftest, knowing that they needed a winger to replace the equally impressive Marika Koroibete. Whilst a different player from the Fijian, they both have their own spark and x-factor that can help the Storm side moving forward and do something that they do well in rugby league – scoring points.

Best Young Talent: Patiently waiting his turn to make an impact in first-grade, Joe Stimson has a great opportunity to get a start at some point in 2017. Everywhere he has played, whether it is for the Storm’s Holden Cup side or for their feeder teams, he has performed consistently and the head honchos at the Storm have noticed.
There has been some talk that he might start the season but given the form and faith in Kenny Bromwich, Stimson may have to bide his time. A great line-runner, Stimson knows how to hit the gap and how to create the break to lead to a sound attacking play. Storm fans know how good he is and very soon, the entire NRL will as well.

2017 gains: Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Vincent Leuluai, Justin Olam & Brandon Smith.

Our predicted Storm line-up at full strength:

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Curtis Scott
  4. Will Chambers
  5. Suliasi Vunivalu
  6. Cam Munster
  7. Cooper Cronk
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cam Smith (C)
  10. Jordan McLean
  11. Kenny Bromwich
  12. Tohu Harris
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Felise Kaufusi

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

A team mired with off-field turmoil and poor results on the field – not from a lack of trying or being committed, though – the Newcastle Knights are well and truly a team rebuilding at present. In the eyes of many, however, they are slated to win a second successive wooden spoon.

The question must be asked, though, are they really that bad? Whilst they may not have the overall team to make the top eight, they do have heart, spirit and determination, due to the nature of coaching employed by Nathan Brown. A coach who enjoys rebuilding a team to get them up to his standards, a lot of the older, veteran players have departed, replaced by talented, upcoming youngsters. Whilst some of the youngsters have proved themselves more than others, the investment in them is the best part as they look to develop for the future.  Furthermore, is it a technique that usually works or does a team need enough experience to balance out their youth and to help them grow and develop.

The make-up of their halves will look different in light of the positive drug test by Jarrod Mullen. Whilst his experienced will be sorely missed, many Knights fans believe it could be a blessing in disguise as it will give one of their younger halves a chance to enjoy a prolonged period in the first-grade line-up. That likely player is Brock Lamb, a young half who is highly rated by Knights fans and has an astute knowledge of the game. Whilst Trent Hodkinson will steer the ship, Lamb’s role will be to control his side of the field and produce solid link-up play to his outside centres and wingers.

With a team that possesses so much youth, the key is to help bring them all together and produce methods to draw out their talents for the betterment of the team. Whilst they may take time to both gel and come into their own as young players, their own individual belief in their abilities and the way the coach perceives them and nurtures them will be the big challenge for the Knights young guns this season.
In the end, many are writing off the Knights and perhaps on form and their roster, part of that is justified. However, if rugby league has taught fans anything, it is that the game is unpredictable and the mix of the youth and experience plus a coach that has high expectations of his players, they will work hard, play hard and remain competitive.

Best buy: Needing experience and versatility desperate, an astute addition for the Knights will be Jamie Buhrer. A versatile second-row forward that can cover hooker and centre if need be, his style of play and solid defensive efforts are just what the doctor ordered for an inexperienced Knights forward pack. Impressive during his time at Manly, Knights fans will be hoping that he can emulate that type of success. He looms as a key player on the fringes for the club, as they look to rebuild and get themselves off the bottom of the ladder – by the expectations of many, at least.

Best Young Talent: With a spot in the halves up for grabs, one of the Knights talents that has a chance to prove his mettle and hold down a spot is young gun, Brock Lamb. A talented half that has had Knights fans raving for a few seasons now, he has excelled in the Holden Cup for the club. With a steeled half in Hodkinson by his side, Lamb has all the tools to provide the perfect foil for him and carve out his own path. If he performs strongly enough, the Knights may have found the half that they can build their side around moving forward.

2017 gains: Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Gagan, Rory Kostjaysn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling & Joe Wardle.

Our predicted Knights line-up at full strength:

  1. Peter Mata’utia
  2. Ken Sio
  3. Dane Gagai
  4. Joe Wardle
  5. Nathan RossSa
  6. Brock Lamb
  7. Trent Hodkinson
  8. Daniel Saifiti
  9. Danny Levi
  10. Josh Starling
  11. Sione Mata’utia
  12. Jamie Buhrer
  13. Mitch Barnett

14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Anthony Tupou
17. Sam Mataora

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Parramatta Eels

Layered with turmoil on and off the field in 2016, the Eels will be looking to put that behind them and will be hoping for a change in fortunes in 2017. With star players out and about getting into trouble, the mass salary cap saga that implicated several administration employees and so much more, it was a year to forget for the Parramatta Eels, a club with a rich history and a proud brand. 

Whilst things may seem on the up and up in 2017, there are still some questions that remain over the make-up of their side as well as whether they can put the past behind them and focus on the goal that all clubs chase – premiership success.
As a club, the Eels have had their ups and downs in recent years and whilst they have possessed talent sides, many players have failed to live up to the expectations placed upon them and as a result, the Eels have missed out on finals footy for quite a number of seasons now.
As the 2017 season nears closer, fans are quietly optimistic that a top eight spot is within their reach. With Brad Arthur at the helm, a fair yet imposing presence as a coach, who wants the best out of his players and helps them achieve their on-field and off-field goals, the Eels are in a good position and fans have full faith in Arthur to deliver consistency, potential success and hopefully a finals berth.

A major talking point by many Eels fans and even rival fans is the make-up of their halves. Some believe that the Eels should have made a play for an elite halfback to play alongside Corey Norman but the Eels and coach Arthur had other ideas. Impressed with the performances of Clint Gutherson at five-eighth towards the back end of 2016, Arthur has made a decision to continue with him in the role with the aim to form a sound combination alongside Norman. Shifted around somewhat as a player in his Eels career, Gutherson found his home first at centre and then at five-eighth, and Eels fans will be hopeful that he can continue to perform in that role.

To follow on from that point is Corey Norman himself. Forced to take on the dominant half role after Kieran Foran was injured and had his off-field issues resulting in his departure, up until he himself was suspended for an off-field incident, he seemed to perform relatively well and control the game.
Though 2017 will be made tougher for him given that there is added pressure to perform. As the dominant half for the Eels in their setup, he will have to dictate terms, call the shots and become the focal point of the club’s attack on virtually every play, much like Thurston or Cronk are for their respective clubs. Dealing with such a burden is not something all players respond to but if Norman can harness that pressure and turn it into confidence and consistency, it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Eels.
Brad Arthur has put the faith in the duo to perform, the question is – can the duo of Gutherson and Norman justify their coaches faith in the halves.

Perhaps the player that is under the most pressure at the Eels in season 2017 is Bevan French. A technically gifted player, French as the finesse, the speed and the agile nature, that complements his individual style of play so well. As he prepares for a permanent move to fullback, though, how will the added expectation of playing there week in and week out and having the fans counting on you to perform affect his overall performance? Whilst he performed strongly in the final two games of the 2016 season at fullback, there was little pressure there. Fast forward to Rd 1, 2017, and there will be high hopes of him that he can perform and do so consistently.

With a new season in tow, the expectation on the Eels team as a whole is high. With a side that represents that in which coach Arthur wants and one that fans believe can go places, their form on the field is crucial if they are to challenge the top sides. In their own right, they have the personnel to perform well and coupled with their new signings and the existing players, they will be expected to be consistent and get the best out of each other.
Overcoming the numerous factors that stand in their way will be no easy feat but with Brad Arthur at the helm to draw the very best out of his players, you can bank on the Eels being competitive in games and pushing teams all the way.

Best buy: If his form at the Nines was anything to go by, the Eels and their fans will look forward to having Suaia Matagi at their disposal. Finishing up in the Auckland Nines team of the tournament, Matagi is a power runner in the forwards and constantly gets over the advantage line. Hard to stop on the frontline, he powers ahead and makes strong metres with each carry. Just the sort of forward that the Eels need, Matagi can be the perfect foil for metre-eating forwards such as Mannah and Moeroa.
Matagi’s style will punch inroads in the defence and create quicker play the balls and more opportunities for the attacking players to do their jobs. Eels fans expect a lot of Matagi and his form, at this stage, is exactly what they are expecting of him.

Best Young Talent: Compared to Tim Mannah by many, the Eels have a young prop that could make an impression if given opportunity in 2017 – Alex Twal. Whilst the club have strengthened their forward pack, the youngster is highly rated by coach Brad Arthur. Tall and lanky, he has the heart of a lion and a motor to boot, throwing himself at the defence in search of as many metres as possible. Whilst he might be a touch down the pecking order given the signings the Eels have made in the forwards, he will be closely watched by Arthur and his coaching staff as an option to consider if things get tough or if there  is nothing to play for in the season. For now, he bides his time with the Eels feeder club, Wentworthville. Though Eels fans will be watching him closely to see if he can perform well there as a prelude to what might see him earn a first-grade spot.

2017 gains: Kirisome Auva’a, Nathan Brown, Jamal Fogarty, Josh Hoffman, George Jennings, Suaia Matagi, Marata Niukore, Frank Pritchard, Will Smith & Siosaia Vave.

Our predicted Eels line-up at full-strength:

  1. Bevan French
  2. Semi Radradra
  3. Michael Jennings
  4. Brad Takairangi
  5. Josh Hoffman
  6. Clint Gutherson
  7. Corey Norman (C)
  8. Suaia Matagi
  9. Issac De Gois
  10. Tim Mannah
  11. Beau Scott
  12. Manu Ma’u
  13. Tepai Moeroa

14. Nathan Brown
15. Kenny Edwards
16. Siosaia Vave
17. Frank Pritchard

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Penrith Panthers

The Panthers are that team that many believe can go far, even if they are not regarded as an elite team. With a big fanbase, able players and a smart system in place, every year, their profile grows as does their confidence. 2017 shapes as a season whereby the Panthers can emerge as a genuine threat in the game and compete with those teams regarded as elite. 

With that, though, comes added pressure. With somewhat of a youthful playing roster, their experienced players will have to step up and act as mentors to guide both the young players and the team itself forward. Their youthful exuberance is a result of the club blooding the youngsters that they believe are capable and knowing that mixing it with experienced players is the way to achieve a perfect balance.

One of the most important players for the club is halfback Nathan Cleary. With the dreaded second year syndrome a real thing in the rugby league landscape, there is genuine pressure on Cleary to continue to perform at the level that he did in his debut season. A talented half blessed with an astute kicking and passing game, his individual success is instrumental to the Panthers chances in 2017. As a half, it will be up to him to lead the side around the park, dictate the terms and then taking advantage of the groundwork laid out by the forwards.

The next interesting point is who will partner Cleary in the halves. Cartwright or Martin? Both are equally adept at playing in the five-eighth role but they are also very different types of players. Cartwright, as we saw late on in 2016, is a genuine runner of the ball blessed with a knack of offloading the footy in easy or difficult situations. That ability comes from his upbringing through the junior ranks and the start of his NRL career, where he played almost exclusively as a back-rower. Whilst his defence might be a bit suspect in the eyes of some, he is seen as an x-factor in the Penrith side and if they want an adlib player capable of producing a moment of brilliance, in the middle of the field for a hard-running forward or the club’s fullback, then Cartwright’s offloading ability might just be able to create those opportunities.
As for Te Maire Martin, he is coming off a long-term injury, which may prevent his play at the start. He is gifted, however, and highly rated by the fans, which does work in his favour. With a tendency to pick players that can play within the confines of his system, Martin is a player with something to prove and if his transition back into the first-grade proves successful, he and Cleary could become the mainstays of the club’s halves for years to come.

Enjoying some success last year as a team, the 2017 season presents a dynamic of a different kind for the club, its fans and coach Anthony Griffin. 2017 sees the return of both Peta Hiku and Dean Whare, both talented players in their own right and capable of producing solid, consistent form.
The different dynamic in this instance is the form that fill-in centre Tyrone Peachey showed just how good he is in the role, forming a strong partnership with the winger on his outside. Which then begs the question – do you retain Peachey in that role based on how he performed in 2016 or does he revert back to his original position as the bench utility?
Whilst he is not a natural centre, his form in the role in 2016 might be enough to see him retain it. With the looming threat of more genuine centres in Whare and Hiku, though, is it worthwhile retaining him there or utilising the proper centre options at your disposal. In addition to that, many still believe that Peachey’s best position is as that utility off the bench, given the array of spots he can cover in a pinch and maintaining consistency.

All in all, many Penrith fans have high hopes and expectations of the team and with the players they have both produced and bought in recent years to strengthen their side, you would think that they are on the precipice of elite status as a footballing team. With that, though, comes the expectation which for some teams and players, they can often struggle to cope with and deal with. Therein lies the challenge for not only the Penrith players but also coach Anthony Griffin. In order to get the very best out of his players and have them challenging the top sides, they will need to work together as a unit, remain consistent and perhaps most importantly, establish a sense of unison and cohesion between all the players on the park.

Best Buy: Making a surprise move from former club, the North Queensland Cowboys, the Penrith pack became even bigger and stronger, with James Tamou signing. Whilst in the eyes of some, he can be inconsistent, he has proven that he can perform consistently at the club level and he has the representative appearances to justify that consistency. A hulking prop, more often than not, he gets over the advantage line and helps set the platform for the Penrith team who then have the players to capitalise on the good metres. Working in tandem with the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin, the trio – among their other forwards – will be expected to lay a solid foundation and make the hard yards that the club needs. Penrith fans are excited about the signing of Tamou and believe he can contribute greatly to the overall nature of what the club wants to achieve.

Best Young Talent: Penrith have always been blessed with a litany of talented juniors and this year is no exception. The potential for a first-grade spot beckons for Dylan Edwards who is perhaps one or two injuries away from making his mark. A technically gifted player, Edwards has shone at both the Holden Cup and NSW Cup level and has Penrith fans excited about what he can produce at the top level. Some may see him as a touch small in stature but he showed enough versatility in his sole first-grade appearance to suggest that it will not be an issue. A hard-worker and a player that prides himself on performing well, Edwards has every chance to become a mainstay of the side if the cards fall into place and Penrith fans will be hopeful that he can make the most of it and perform well to help propel their side towards potential success.

Our predicted Penrith line-up at full strength for the 2017 season is:

  1. Matt Moylan (C)
  2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
  3. Dean Whare
  4. Peta Hiku
  5. Josh Mansour
  6. Te Maire Martin
  7. Nathan Cleary
  8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  9. Peter Wallace
  10. James Tamou
  11. Isaah Yeo
  12. Bryce Cartwright
  13. Trent Merrin

14. Mitch Rein
15. Tyrone Peachey
16. Leilani Latu
17. James Fisher-Harris

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 5: South Sydney Rabbitohs

A foundation team with one of the richest histories in the game, the cardinal and myrtle of the South Sydney Rabbitohs resonates with Australian rugby league. Blessed with numerous legendary players and premierships, 2017 shapes as an important year for both the team and coach Michael Maguire. Since their premiership win in 2014, Souths fans will tell you that their side has struggled since then and been unable to perform consistently. Is 2017 the year for them to turn things around?

A key factor for the Bunnies will be the dynamics between their halves. In their own right, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are gifted players but there has been some collusion when it comes to who takes more ownership. Traditionally, Souths setup is one built upon defence, hard work and execution, areas that have been lacking in the past. The halves play a big role in the execution stakes and Reynolds and Walker have two very distinct styles of play.
Walker, as a runner, takes the line on with acceleration and often comes out the other side to make the breaks. Therein lies his major strength in the game, a strength that sees him among the top when it comes to breaks made by halves. Conversely, for Reynolds, whilst he can also be a runner of the football, he is at times a bit hesitant to do so – Souths fans will know this well – due to prior injuries to his knee.
What he lacks in running less, however, Reynolds makes up for with a pinpoint kicking game – long and short. Often regarded as one of the best general kickers in the game, Reynolds gives his side the advantage and metres required with the boot, a valuable asset in the world of rugby league. If the two of them can gel and mesh together whilst excelling at their unique halves skills, they can lay the killer blow in the attacking zone for Souths when it matters.

The forward pack is also an interesting proposition for Souths. With many disappointed in the form of the Burgess twins in recent years, they have to step up their game or risk losing their spots in the side. As to which one starts, some believe Thomas should get the nod whilst others believe George should get it, hoping he gets back to his 2014 form. There is plenty of pressure on he and other Bunnies forwards to perform with the emergence of players such as Zane Musgrove, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton, all of whom are stating their claims for regular first-grade spots and opportunities. The pressure is on the Burgess brothers and should they not perform, they may find their spots in jeopardy for both the short and long-term.

The final point to take out of the Bunnies 2017 roster is their back-line. It’s safe to say that Greg Inglis and most likely Alex Johnston are certainties to be picked. The other positions are somewhat up for grabs, even more so with the injury sustained by Aaron Gray. Bryson Goodwin, you would imagine, gets the nod somewhere given his experience and leadership but the overall make-up of the back-line would be quite iffy. With several youngsters patiently waiting including the trio of recruits George Jennings, Tyrell Fuimaono and Braidon Burns, they all have a chance to stake their claim for a vacant spot. The question is, though, are they ready for that level and can they perform consistently to hold down a spot?

If the Bunnies can recapture their 2014 form, gel with their new recruits and perform well, anything is possible. They have an able roster to challenge the top sides but they will need all their key plaeyrs to step up at the crucial moments if they are going to emulate that 2014 success. Easier said than done due to the nature of the competition itself and the strength of their opponents, the young and the old, and the new and the veterans, all need to make their mark. If even one aspect is lacking, it may serve as a detriment to their team and thus their success. In the end, the man that looms as their key is half Adam Reynolds.

Best Buy: Becoming more of a front-rower in recent times, Robbie Rochow is a handy addition for a Souths forward pack that needed a bit of defensive prowess. Whilst not as flashy in attack as some Knights fans wanted him to be, Rochow, now at the Bunnies, as the defensive starch needed to hold down the middle of the field alongside the likes of Sam Burgess. His versatility may end up proving handy if injuries strike but it will be his leadership that will also be an important factor. With many young forwards at the club and coming through the ranks, by leading from the front and setting an example for them, his guidance will be crucial. He may not be a superstar but his presence and performances are important for the younger brigade.

Best Young Talent: Whilst he may not start in first-grade from the get-go, one player that Souths fans rate highly is lock forward Cam Murray. Rated highly by Souths fans, Murray has performed well at both the Holden Cup level and the NSW Cup level, staking his claims for a regular first-grade spot. With players currently in front of him, he might be just an injury or two away from getting an opportunity. A hard-working, hard-running and hard-hitting forward, Murray is a player that can set the tone and make consistent impact in the attacking department. Often a handle to bring down and tackle, he looms as a genuine attacking depth option if the club need to call upon someone to step up to the plate.

2016 gains: Braidon Burns, Anthony Cherrington, Robbie Farah, Tyrell Fuimaono, Robert Jennings, Luke Kelly, Robbie Rochow & Connor Tracey.

Our predicted Souths line-up at full strength is:

1. Greg Inglis
2. Alex Johnston
3. Hymel Hunt
4. Bryson Goodwin
5. Aaron Gray
6. Cody Walker
7. Adam Reynolds
8. George Burgess
9. Robbie Farah
10. Robbie Rochow
11. Angus Crichton
12. John Sutton
13. Sam Burgess

14. Zane Musgrove
15. Thomas Burgess
16. Damien Cook
17. Jason Clark

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: St George Illawarra Dragons

Their fans are perhaps some of the most passionate and vocal in regards to their team’s performance and they have high expectations all the time. For the St George Illawarra Dragons, having missed out on finals in recent years, 2017 shapes as a big year for the coach and the players. Desperate for some sort of success, many would say that they have their work cut out but that is not to say that they do not have talented players at their disposal.

In the past and even in the present, many fans have been vocal of Paul McGregor as coach and the perceived inability to get the best out of the players to perform regularly. By extension, that criticism has also been dished out to CEO Peter Doust, as fans struggle to understand the inaction taken by the club at times. Whilst McGregor was a good player in his own right during his time with the club, many fans believe that he is the wrong fit for the club as a coach given the lack of success the Dragons have had over the last few years. McGregor is under just as much pressure as coach as the players are and if the Dragons are to have a successful season, it is up to him to utilise all his experience and knowledge and get the very best out of his roster.

As we move onto the field itself, the one major talking point is the Dragons halves conundrum. For several years now, the Dragons have tried to find the right player to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves. Widdop, a talented five-eighth, has often had to carry the play-making burden in both a running and kicking sense, heaping more pressure on him that has lead to some inconsistency in the last 18 months.
The Dragons plan was set to be Drew Hutchinson to partner Widdop but that plan backfired when the halfback injured his ACL and was effectively ruled out for the season. As they look for another player to replace him in the halves, Dragons fans have differing views on who that player should be.
A very small minority would like to see Josh McCrone get the nod. The most experienced of the trio vying for the role, McCrone’s utility value could also serve as a useful proposition on the bench. Though many believe that he is not the right player for the role and thus they want two other possible options in the role.

One of those options and perhaps the most exciting of the lot is young halfback Jai Field. Blessed with natural ability and pure speed, that was on show at the recent Nines tournament where Field blitzed the field with speed, agility and a fantastic show of in-game awareness for a player of his age. Although with those strong performances also comes uncertainty. How would he perform at the top level and could he do so consistently? A further point to consider is how does the impending arrival of Ben Hunt for 2018 affect Field’s mindset and play? Does he perform consistently or does it weigh on his mind and thus affect his form?
The final option is Shaun Nona who is also a talented player in his own right but perhaps one that many Dragons fans see as more of a depth option than anything else. With the battle waging on as to just who will get the nod, it remains to be seen who McGregor chooses to go with, how well they can link up with Gareth Widdop and how well they fit into the team dynamics.

Many are likely to write off the Dragons for the 2017 season including some of their own fans but on their day, if they perform well and consistently, they might just be capable of good results. That will hinge on player relationships on the field and how well the selected half alongside Widdop performs both in partnership with him and in partnership with the rest of the team. Equally important for the Dragons chances is consistency of Josh Dugan. If Dugan can fire and perform consistently and stay on the field and avoid injury, he can provide additional link-up play by the Dragons and take some of the pressure off Widdop in attack.

Best Buy: Dragons fans have been crying out for a hard-running, hard-working prop and they may just have found their man in Paul Vaughan. With limited opportunity in the end at the Raiders, the barnstorming forward is a perfect foil for the likes of Russell Packer and Jack de Belin, who can also run hard and provide genuine impact. Vaughan’s hard work never goes unnoticed, with fans of many rival clubs fans of twhat he does and the way in which he carries himself on the field. Whilst it is unclear as to whether he will start or come off the bench, he will certainly provided an extra dimension in attack for the Dragons to help propel them forward and to get them on the front foot both early on in games and when they are under the pump.

Best Young Talent: There are two primary options here and narrowing it down to one given the success of both is not easy, so we decided to mention both. As previously mentioned in this editorial, the performances of Jai Field both in Holden Cup last year and the NRL Nines this year, have many Dragons fans salivating at the thought of Field playing in the halves in first-grade. With genuine speed and ability, he could become the crucial x-factor that the Dragons have perhaps lacked in the past.
Equally impressive is Matt Dufty who, much like Field, has genuine ability and speed. More of a fullback than anything else, he was also impressive in the Nines tournament and in the Holden Cup. As talented as he is, a downside is that some believe he might still be too small to play in first-grade. That argument has obviously been proven wrong in the past but some think that given the game has changed, so too must its players, which means Dufty would need to bulk up somewhat. Whether he does or not, he is on the cusp of a first-grade opportunity and he is more than likely to take it when given one.

2016 gains: Levi Dodd, Jacob Hind, Josh Kerr, Nene Macdonald, Cameron McInnes & Paul Vaughan.

Our predicted Dragons line-up at full-strength is:

1. Josh Dugan
2. Jason Nightingale
3. Euan Aitken
4. Kurt Mann
5. Nene Macdonald
6. Gareth Widdop (C)
7. Jai Field
8. Leeson Ah Mau
9. Cameron McInnes
10. Tariq Sims
11. Joel Thompson
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Jack de Belin.

14. Russell Packer
15. Paul Vaughan
16. Luciano Leilua
17. Jake Marketo

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 3: Sydney Roosters

With some lean years in recent seasons, the Roosters have a chance to start with a fresh slate and get back to their consistent, top eight ways. Although to start the season, they will be forced to deal with some injured players, fans will be hopeful they can get off to a good start and enjoy a sound season. Boasting some tremendous players that can make a solid impact during games, they also have several youngsters to choose from that will be pushing for first-grade. With a mix of youth and experience, can this be the year the Roosters get back into the upper echelons of the competition?

One of the crucial players for the Roosters is halfback Mitchell Pearce. His talent is evident but off-field exploits have seen him play sporadically at times affecting both his form and the form of the team. Although he knuckled down and performed strongly towards the back end of the 2016 season after his return, consistency will be the mitigating factor for him, both for his Origin claims and for the betterment of the team. A fit and firing Pearce is perhaps the most crucial element for the Roosters in 2017 if they are to have any chance of challenging the top contenders.

Following on from that will be how well Pearce and likely new half Luke Keary link up. Having never played together at the top level, their relationship as a halves duo will either shape up as a boom or a bust. Keary, in his own right, is a talented player, even if he had his critics during his time at previous club, the Rabbitohs. With Pearce likely to be the dominant half and control the game and the tempo of the club’s attack, Keary will be relied upon to provide some running spark and catch out the tiring forwards. He is capable of doing so but will have to pick his moment and make the runs at the right time, rather than trying to usurp the work that Pearce is doing on the other side of the field.

Blessed with numerous young backs pressing their first-grade claims, one wing spot is apparently still up for grabs if one was to believe the rumours that Daniel Tupou is on the outer at the club. An inconsistent player that draws the ire of Roosters fans, his spot is on thin ice and with some talented youngster making pressing claims of their own for that spot, Tupou is no guarantee to play.
Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Joseph Manu are the two primary candidates apart from Tupou for that spot and having impressed in the past at different times, it presents quite the dilemma for coach Trent Robinson.

In a nutshell, the Roosters have a talented roster that has the potential to go places in 2017. Their hopes, whilst largely resting on the shoulders of Pearce, also requires the players around him to step up and perform. Whilst Pearce is the glue that will hold the side together, he needs the resources around him to play their roles and ease his burden against the top teams.
Capable of winning games on his own, Pearce’s role and influence will never be so crucial in a season where the fans are expecting the Roosters to bounce back and do so well. The slew of new recruits, youngsters and veteran stars provide what appears to be a winning formula on paper. However, in the NRL, we all know that games are not won on paper but rather, they are won by the actions of a football team on the field. The Roosters are capable of success but need consistency across the park if they are to achieve it.

Best Buy: Every team needs experience to help guide their younger brigade around the park and with the relative inexperience of Latrell Mitchell, signing someone to help him develop and grow is imperative. To combat that and to help him learn, the Roosters have signed veteran custodian Michael Gordon. A fan favourite of the three teams he has played for in the past, Gordon’s experience has seen him become an established, reliable player that can not only perform consistently but can draw the very best out of the club’s younger generation. What you see is what you get with Gordon and he will perform at his best and looms as a under-rated contender in the Roosters chances this season.

Best Young Talent: Having already tasted first-grade, Joseph Manu looms as a genuine contender for a wing spot in 2017. With continued uncertainty about the future of Daniel Tupou, there is a chance for Manu to usurp the more experienced winger if he is able to perform consistently during the trials and impress coach Robinson. Although in some respect, experience might work out better in the eyes of some, knowing what Manu is capable of as a player and the potential he has, many Roosters fans would much rather see Manu get the opportunity as they start to plan for the future. As a player, Manu is exactly what you want in a young, potential first-grader. He has a nifty step, good acceleration and upper body strength to deal with any would-be defenders. Very Tupou-esque in some ways in size and style of play, he has proven that he is a genuine contender for the wing spot and that he would not look out of place should the opportunity be given to him.

2017 Gains: Paul Carter, Mitch Cornish, Michael Gordon, Brock Gray, Luke Keary, Liam Knight, Brenden Santi, Chris Smith & Zane Tetevano.

Our predicted Roosters side at full-strength is:

1. Michael Gordon
2. Latrell Mitchell
3. Blake Ferguson
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5. Joseph Manu
6. Connor Watson
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend (C)
10. Dylan Napa
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Mitchell Aubusson
13. Sio Siua Taukeiaho

14. Paul Carter
15. Issac Liu
16. Aidan Guerra
17. Nat Butcher

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 2: New Zealand Warriors

A team that is always highly rated with the players at their disposal, in recent years, the Warriors have faltered under the pressure and not performed at their best. As they undergo a further transition ahead of the 2017 season with a new coach in Stephen Kearney and a new half in Kieran Foran, Warriors fans will be wondering if this is the year that they can stake their claims or if it will be much of the same. A talented side across the park, the Warriors certainly have the personnel to perform consistently but do they have the mental fortitude to be consistent?

A new coach can often have numerous effects on a side, all of which have differing natures. It can re-energise the team, bring them together and galvanise them to perform better and more consistently on the field to get the desired results. In this type of setup, the coach can extract the very best out of players that have perhaps been inconsistent in the past. This is the type of coach Warriors fans hope Stephen Kearney will be, given the general inconsistency of some of their players.
Conversely, disharmony can be a striking factor when a new coach arrives due to factions that may exist within the playing roster or riffs between the playing roster and the staff. Players often become quite attached to coaches for different reasons despite what might be said in the media, so the challenge for Kearney as well as for his players is to put concerns or differences aside and focus on what is important. The football, the results and the fans.

Another focus of the Warriors 2017 season is the pending return of star fullback, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. One of the elite fullbacks in the game, Tuivasa-Sheck had little chance to show just how good he could be in 2016 before he suffered an ACL injury that ended his season. With the hype and billing around him and his play so high, Warriors fans are expecting a lot of him and are expecting him to fire.
Boasting a star-studded team in some respects, all eyes will be on Tuivasa-Sheck and how quickly he returns to top form after his injury lay-off and how he links up with the likes of Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke. Those two aforementioned in Johnson and Luke will also play an integral role in the Warriors potential success – with Johnson’s playmaking abilities and astute running game and Luke’s nifty, dynamic runs from dummy half.

In the end, the Warriors chances hinge on the success of Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke. With that said, it is the role players of the team – the other players on the roster – that need to provide an ample supporting cast for the key players to make their mark on games. Without a solid support cast around them, the Warriors efforts will likely go the way of previous years that will once again leave them disappointed by the end of the season. Most importantly, what are the expectations of the team under new coach Stephen Kearney?

Best buy: To date, the Warriors have only really signed one player and that is Kieran Foran, so it leaves little room for selection. Foran’s exploits as a player on the field are undeniable. A talented, gifted footballer, he proved his worth as a Manly player and then as a Kiwi international, showcasing just how good he was. Although his move to the Parramatta Eels eventually ended in differing circumstances due to some off-field issues, he showed glimpses of his form and just how good he was. When he gets the all-clear from the NRL to return to the game as a starting half, Warriors fans will hope he can be the cool, calm influence on Johnson, and take away some of the pressure from the man that has carried the side on his back in recent years. How long it takes Foran to get back to elite form is the question and whether he can be the man to guide the club to premiership success.

Best Young Talent: He may have seen some limited opportunity last year but this season could be the one whereby Bunty Afoa makes a name for himself. A hulking back-rower, Afoa’s line-running skills were on display last year in one particular game when he scored two tries by hitting a gap at the right time off two stellar passes from Johnson. With some uncertainty surrounding their forward pack moving forward, opportunities for Afoa could come sooner than many think. Afoa would not look out of place in the team, given how highly rated he is by fans. The change in coach may affect the time he sees early on but should he impress for the Warriors feeder team, he may see first-grade time sooner rather than later. He will be a player that will only get better as he gets more game time.

2017 Gains: Kieran Foran (Parramatta Eels, 2017).

Our predicted Warriors line-up at full strength is:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Manu Vatuvei
3. Solomone Kata
4. Tuimoala Lolohea
5. David Fusitu’a
6. Kieran Foran
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Jacob Lillyman
9. Issac Luke
10. Ben Matulino
11. Bodene Thompson
12. Simon Mannering
13. Ryan Hoffman (C).

14. Sam Lisone
15. Albert Vete
16. Charlie Gubb
17. Bunty Afoa

Coach: Stephen Kearney.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 1: Wests Tigers

Another pre-season and another lot of NRL previews brought to you by one of our key men, Ricky. Over the next month or so, he will be outlining his thoughts on each team and the big questions surrounding them heading into the 2017 season. This year, we thought we would do things a bit differently and start with the Wests Tigers. So basically, we’re doing the previews in reverse alphabetical order.

The Wests Tigers boast some talented players and such a fact cannot be disputed. However, many still have them slated as potential wooden spoon contenders. You have to ask yourself, though – is it justified to lump them in that category for the 2017 season?
Boasting one of the top young fullbacks in the game in James Tedesco who, as we saw in 2016, can single-handedly win a game for his club, they are blessed with natural talent, flair and footballing smarts from the back. The downside, however, is that a lot of the Tigers fans hopes often pin on the feats of Tedesco and should a team dominate the Tigers defensively or if Tedesco gets injured – which for the sake of NRL fans and especially Tigers fans we hope does not happen – then the Tigers often struggle in games as we have seen in the past.

Encouragingly, one other player did step up towards the back end of the year to help the Tigers to some victories and that was five-eighth Mitch Moses. Since he has been in the NRL, he has taken Tigers fans on an up-and-down ride in terms of his form but he impressed in 2016 and has many Tigers fans excited about what he can do to start the 2017 season. If he and fellow young half Luke Brooks can find their mojo early, the Tigers have the attacking nous to perform well and perform consistently. The big questions surrounding them, though – can they both remain consistent and can they take the load off Tedesco in attack?

Another big question now surrounds the vacant hooker position. Despite the turmoil that eventually led to his departure from the club, the absence of Robbie Farah leaves his replacement with incredibly big shoes to fill. An attacking player that acts like a third playmaker, in the eyes of some Tigers fans he eased the burden on the club’s young attacking players and in the eyes of others, he made it worse for them by taking away from their capabilities. Fast forward to 2017 and the club has two primary options at hooker in Matt Ballin and Matt McIlwrick. Ballin, whilst a veteran of the game and well revered, is coming off a lengthy stint out of the game due to a knee injury.
Whilst a good player in his own right, Tigers fans will be concerned about his longevity and whether he can offer the impact and dynamism from the hooker role. Conversely, Matt McIlwrick looms as another option for the club but his inexperience at the first-grade level looms as a fundamental concern.

For the Tigers to have any sort of consistent success this year, they need some their players to rally around Tedesco, Moses and Brooks. They have other talented players at their disposal and now is the time for them to step up and perform to take the pressure off their young play-makers. With experience in the likes of Aaron Woods, Chris Lawrence and Elijah Taylor, the trio shape as key leaders for the club in 2017 to guide them towards potential success.

Best buy: Not overly active in the recruitment market ahead of the 2017 season, the most interesting buy the Tigers have made is the purchase of Jamal Idris. Once a genuinely talented up-and-comer in the league, off-field issues and family drama led to inconsistency in his game and ultimately his departure from the NRL. After going on a soul-searching mission to rediscover himself and find his inner peace, Idris sought a return to the NRL, given a chance by a Tigers side many deem as being on the rise. Whilst many have their doubts about him given he has been away from the game for a while, others are quietly hopeful that he can replicate earlier success in his career and become a handy addition for the Tigers side.

Best Young Talent: Talk to any Tigers fan and there is one name on their lips. Esan Marsters. A hulking, young lad, he has impressed over the last couple of seasons with some Tigers fans carefully monitoring his progress and calling for him to be given first-grade opportunities. Performing well at all levels he has played in so far, he is a player that has endless potential.
Already a talented player from a basic edge forward level, what takes Marsters to the next level is astute footwork close to the line and some surprising ball skills. Now in the club’s full-time squad, Marsters has a chance to stake his claim in the NSW Cup after what can only be described as a phenomenal individual season in the Holden Cup last year. Keep your eye on him because if he plays, he could be something special.

2017 gains: Jamal Idris (sabbatical) & Matt McIlwrick (Cronulla Sharks).

Our predicted line-up:

1. James Tedesco
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Jamal Idris
4. Tim Simona
5. Kevin Naiqama
6. Mitch Moses
7. Luke Brooks
8. Aaron Woods (C)
9. Matt Ballin
10. Sauaso Sue
11. Chris Lawrence
12. Josh Aloiai
13. Elijah Taylor

14. Ava Seumanufagai
15. Tim Grant
16. Michael Chee-Kam
17. Joel Edwards

Greatest Teams Ever Pt 9: North Queensland Cowboys

One of the newer teams in the Australian rugby league scene, the North Queensland Cowboys have boasted some tremendous players over their few short years that eventually culminated in a maiden premiership success in 2015. A fewer pool of players makes picking the team harder but after research and work, we narrowed it down and picked the best 17.

Again, we must stress, that whilst the Cowboys have had numerous players join them over the years from rival clubs, our greatest team ever is made up of players that have played almost exclusively for the Cowboys.

So, here we have it, our list of the greatest players to have ever donned the Cowboys jersey:

1. Matt Bowen – Born and raised in Cairns, Bowen had immense interest from several clubs outside of interest but in the end, he chose to stay close to home and signed with the Cowboys. He played in the Cowboys side that made the reserve grade competition in 2000 and was then selected for the Queensland U19’s team that year.
Making his debut in Rd 1, 2001, Bowen went on to play 15 games for the Cowboys scoring six tries and kicking 1 goal. Initially, he started as a bench utility and a five-eighth before he played his primary position of fullback for the final seven games of the season. He was also selected in the Junior Kangaroos side alongside several of his Cowboys teammates.
Although he finished the season at fullback well, he was shifted to the wing with Tim Brasher the preferred candidate for the custodian role. However, after Brasher was injured, Bowen became the long-term fullback and excelled in the role scoring 12 tries in 24 games.
He enjoyed yet another good season in 2003 and was rewarded with his first Origin opportunity. He scored his first hat-trick for the club to go with 20 total tries for the season. The Cowboys maiden finals appearance came in 2004 with Bowen one of the key factors behind their push towards it, although they fell just short of the grand final. He was again selected for Queensland as well as making his Test debut against France.
2005 resulted in a major shift for the Cowboys with Johnathan Thurston joining the club. This signing would see Bowen and Thurston become one of the most potent duos in the NRL competition. Their potency was on show immediately as they both led the side to the 2005 grand final. Although they were unsuccessful in the end, Bowen finished the year with 21 tries, the most in the competition.
2006 was a lean year for the custodian in several regards as he played just one game for Queensland that year, scored only five tries for the season and saw the Cowboys miss the finals.
2007 was a totally different proposition, however, as he regained his competition try-scoring mantle and led the league in both line breaks and tackle breaks. He returned to the Queensland side, helped the Cowboys make the finals and his peers named him as the Rugby League Players’ Association Player of the Year. He also won the Cowboys’ Player of the Year, Rugby League Week Player of the Year and was named Dally M Fullback of the Year.
2008 was a tough overall season for Bowen who only played a handful of games due to a knee injury that ruled him out for the season. He started 2009 well and by Rd 20, he had scored 12 tries in 20 games before he, unfortunately, suffered another knee injury that ruled him out for the remainder of that season. Bowen missed half of the 2010 season due to the injury he suffered in 2009 but upon his return, he did play in his 200th match for the club. The 2010 season was one to forget for the Cowboys fans.
2011 brought about greener pastures as Bowen found his try-scoring mojo and surpassed Paul Bowman to become the Cowboys most capped player at that time. He was selected for the Prime Minister’s XIII side again and played in his 250th match with the club in 2012.
2013 ended up being Bowen’s last with the Cowboys in the NRL, informing the fans and the team that he would be off to England to play with the Wigan Warriors. After his Wigan stint, he did return to the Cowboys to play in their NRL Auckland Nines side before playing with QLD Cup side, the Townsville Blackhawks.

2. Ty Williams – The Cairns junior, recognised by the headgear he wore whilst playing on the wing, had a successful career with the Cowboys. Debuting in 2002, he was a raw player but as he continued to find his feet, his try-scoring ability and link-up play saw him become an elite winger in the game by the end of 2005. He was a part of the Cowboys grand final appearance in 2005 and boasted a handy try-scoring record with 85 tries from his 151 games with the club.
2006 was a tough year for Williams after he injured his Achilles tendon which saw him miss the entire season and some of 2007. Upon his return, his form became rather sporadic but he always had the heart. Ultimately, niggling injuries lessened his game time and he made a decision to retire at the end of the 2010 season from the NRL. He would go on to play for the Northern Pride in several seasons, captaining the side during his time there.
His versatility was a key feature to his game, able to cover fullback, centre and wing in a pinch.

3. Paul Bowman – Hailing from Newcastle, Bowman made his debut in the Cowboys inaugural season in 1995. He found his way slowly but surely and soon became a mainstay of the side, locking down a centre position. In 1999, he enjoyed his best year to date after he was named the Cowboys’ Player of the Year before winning it again in 2000, sharing it with Julian O’Neill. Captaining the side for several seasons from 2001 to 2004, Bowman was alwaysa favourite among the Cowboys fans.
Regarded as one of the best defensive centres of his time, Bowman played in 203 games for the club, a record at that time. He was a key member in the Cowboys 2005 campaign that saw them make the grand final for the first time in their history and then announced his retirement at the end of the 2007 season. He played 12 games for Queensland in that time.
His time at the Cowboys did not end there, though, as he had a stint as assistant coach from 2008 to 2010. Given the impact he had on the side, the club’s best and fairest has been renamed to the Paul Bowman Medal.

4. Kane Linnett – Perhaps a surprising choice in this team, Linnett is one of the few centres to have played for the Cowboys that has accumulated a large number of games over the years. His career began at the Roosters, however, playing in 23 games for the club before moving to the Cowboys ahead of the 2012 season.
In this year, he set the club record for metres made in a game by a centre with 234 metres and was named the Cowboys Most Improved Player. By this stage, he was a mainstay of the side, playing in every single game of the 2013 season and scoring 9 tries in the process. He then represented Scotland in the 2013 World Cup.
His good form transcended into the NRL Auckland Nines in 2014 as he was a part of the victorious Cowboys team and was named in the Team of the Tournament. The milestones continued in 2015, as Linnett played his 100th game in the NRL before his Cowboys side went on to win their maiden grand final. He was then a part of the Cowboys winning World Club Challenge side before representing Scotland again at the 2016 Four Nations.

5. Ashley Graham – A Cairns Kangaroos junior, Graham’s first crack in the NRL came in 2002 with the Parramatta Eels where he impressed early to keep other teams interested. He won the club’s rookie of the year that year.
In 2007, after just 41 games with the Eels over 5 seasons, he moved to the Cowboys and from there, he began to flourish. Compared to previous years at the top level, 2007 was by far his best as he improved out of sight and performed brilliantly for the Cowboys that season, scoring 18 tries in just 22 games. Continuing to toil and score tries, Graham was awarded the club’s player of the year award in 2011. His stats that year justified the gong at the end of the season, as he finished first in metres gained, first in hit-ups and first in highest average metres. He also led the Cowboys try-scoring ranks for the third time with three tries. 2012 saw Graham play his 150th NRL game and his 100th for the Cowboys. 2012 was another productive year for Graham as he scored 21 tries over the course of the season. Unfortunately, 2013 brought about the end of his career as Graham required wrist surgery and was forced into early retirement.
In total, he played 202 games in his career, 161 of which came with the North Queensland Cowboys. At present, he works with the club as Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Holden Cup side.

6. Josh Hannay – Hannay’s career could have started two years earlier at just 16 years of age but the ARL vetoed that move as he was not 16 years old at the beginning of year. Instead, he had to wait until 1998 to get his debut and from there, he became an established first-grade centre up until the 2006 NRL season.
In that time, he became the club’s greatest point-scorer at the time and enjoyed individual success as a player during his time with the club. He was a member of the side that made the 2005 grand final and played in two games for Queensland.
After 150 games, 49 tries and 383 goals (totalling 882 points), Hannay departed the club and joined the Cronulla Sharks for a short stint. That preceded a stint with the Crusaders in England before he joined the Mackay Cutters for two seasons. He then coached in numerous roles.

7. Johnathan Thurston – Arguably the greatest player to don the Cowboys jersey, the man nicknamed ‘JT’ has done tremendous things as a player and achieved remarkable consistency in his career.
Initially making his debut with the Canterbury Bulldogs, Thurston’s final year at the club culminated in a grand final success as a player off the bench.
In 2005, he made the move to the Cowboys and has been with the club since, never looking back. He quickly became the starting halfback at the club, played for Queensland and won his first Dally M Medal after what was a stellar season for both Thurston and the Cowboys. They made the grand final that season, only to fall at the final hurdle.
Thurston has a knack for scoring tries and in 2006, he managed to score 11 tries from 17 games, including a hat-trick early on in the season. 2007 saw him rewarded with the captaincy and he continued his good, consistent form, winning his second Dally M Medal as well as the Dally M Halfback of the Year.
2008 was a bit of a low year for all at the Cowboys as a 15-game losing streak effectively ended any chances of a finals berth but Thurston did play in his 100th NRL match that year. 2009 was around the time whereby Thurston became the go-to man in the halves for Queensland and he was part of another successful series. Although he just missed out on the Dally M for a third time, he did win the Dally M Halfback of the Year Award yet again.
2010 started off with an appearance in the inaugural All-Stars game with the Indigenous side before going on to win a man-of-the-match award during Origin that year. 2011 threatened to be derailed by a serious knee injury but Thurston bounced back and after a tremendous start to the 2011 season and an equally good finish, he won the Golden Boot Award.
2012 saw Thurston play in his 150th NRL game as well as taking out the Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year Award. In 2013, whilst the Cowboys were knocked out of the finals controversially, Thurston’s greatest achievement of that year came at the World Cup when he broke Mick Cronin’s record of 309 for most points scored by a Kangaroo.
2013 was capped off with a second Golden Boot success for Thurston and he enjoyed yet another stellar season in 2014. It culminated in further controversy, again in the finals, but Thurston took home the individual honours as he won the Dally M Medal for a third time – tied with Jarryd Hayne – Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year and the Provan-Summons Medal.
2015 was perhaps the best year of Thurston’s career not from an individual perspective but a club perspective, as it was capped off a maiden premiership win for the North Queensland Cowboys. Thurston was again instrumental throughout the entire season and won another Dally M Medal – his fourth and currently a record – Dally M Halfback of the Year, Dally M Captain of the Year alongside teammate Matt Scott and a third Golden Boot. He also won the Clive Churchill Medal in the Cowboys grand final success as well.
Thurston also won numerous club awards throughout his career as well as Origin awards, Rugby League Player Association Awards and RLIF Awards.

8. Matt Scott – Born in Longreach, it made sense for Scott to play for a Queensland team and that ended up being the Cowboys. Making his club debut in 2004, it was unfortunately not one to remember after he broke his leg in the early minutes of the game and was ruled out for the season. In 2005, Scott played just 3 games for the first-grade side in total, instead spending most of the season in the QLD Cup.
2006 saw Scott enjoy a longer stint in the side as he played in 22 games and played in his maiden Origin game for Queensland. He was a key figure in the side’s 2007 charge towards the finals and was slowly establishing himself as an elite prop.
2008 was an injury-affected year for Scott. He played just the first three games of the season and the three final games of the season. Overcoming the injury concerns in 2009, Scott was back to his best and regained a spot in the Queensland side for Origin. He also played for the Prime Minister’s XIII side that year.
2010 saw Scott’s profile increase after he won both the Cowboys Player of the Year Award and the Players’ Player of the Year Award. The Cowboys finished 15th, however, in a disappointing season but Scott enjoyed individual success with his awards and again gaining selection for Queensland. 2011 saw him appointed as co-captain of the side along with Thurston before his good form continued that resulted in him being named Dally M Prop of the Year. Scott continued to play for Queensland and helped the Cowboys make the finals.
Scott won a man-of-the-match award whilst playing for Australia in 2012 and was a part of QLD’s side yet again, helping them to eight straight series victories by the end of 2013. After a monumental performance that saw him record 220 running metres as a prop, Scott was rewarded with a rare score of 10 by Rugby League Week, a year many regard as the best of his career.
2015 was a year to remember for Scott as he continued to perform consistently, ultimately helping his side to their maiden NRL premiership. To cap things off, he was named captain of the year at the Dally M’s.

9. Aaron Payne – A Townsville local, playing for the Cowboys was always on the cards for Payne as his career progressed. Making his debut in 2002, he quickly cemented a spot as the leading hooker for the club up until his retirement in 2012. In 2006 and 2008, he was named the Cowboys Player of the Year, also winning Player’s Player of the Year and Clubperson of the Year in 2008.
For much of his later days at the club, he was a vice captain and played in his 200th career game for the club during the 2011 season. Many regarded him as the glue that held the Cowboys side together, complementing Thurston perfectly during their time together at the Cowboys.
His sole representative honour came in 2012 when he was named in the NRL All-Stars squad. After 10 years with the club, Payne retired in 2012.

10. Shane Tronc – Debuting for the Cowboys in 2004, Tronc played with the club for six seasons and played in 125 games as a result. In just his second year with the club, the powerful forward played in the grand final (2005). A hard-working prop, Tronc suffered a knee injury that ruled him out of the 2007 season. He eventually departed the Cowboys and went on to join Super League side, Wakefield and then returned to the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos. He was forced to retire in 2011 due to a neck injury.

11. Glenn Morrison – A Terrigal junior, Morrison had stints at both the Balmain Tigers and North Sydney Bears before joining the Cowboys in 2000. A successful spell with the club and consistent form saw Morrison named as the Cowboys Player of the Year in 2001, a season that saw him score 13 tries in 23 games, a good return for a forward. He carried that form into 2002 where he played 15 games, scoring 60 points in the process (15 tries).
His stint at the Cowboys was regarded as one of his best in his career and he was at the club until the 2004 season before he made the move to the Parramatta Eels, before enjoying stints in England with Bradford and Wakefield. He also made four appearances for the Country Origin side in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

12. Gavin Cooper – Hailing from Murgon, Cooper was signed to the Cowboys in 2005 and played in the club’s reserve grade premiership side. 2006 saw him make his debut for the club playing in 18 games before he made the move to the Gold Coast Titans. After limited time on the Gold Coast, he joined Penrith for several seasons.
2011 marked an overhaul for the Cowboys side and Cooper rejoined the club in that season. He played in his 100th NRL game in that year and was named as the Clubman of the Year. 2012 saw him become a mainstay in the back-row and he score 10 tries for the club, the club record for a forward. After another successful season in 2013, he earned his first representative honour after he was picked for the Prime Minister’s XIII.
2014 saw the Auckland Nines begin with Cooper captaining the Cowboys team to victory that year. He was also named in the Team of the Tournament. In 2015, for the first time in his career, Cooper was named in the Queensland Emerging Origin side. In the same year, he again captained the Cowboys at the Nines competition and captained them for the first time in a regular first-grade game.
He was also a key contributor to the Cowboys season that saw them take out their maiden NRL premiership. In 2016, he captained the Cowboys at the Nines for a third time, made his Origin debut for Queensland and again captained the first-grade side.

13. Luke O’Donnell – A talented yet aggressive player, O’Donnell was a player that worked hard and played hard to get the best out of his own game. Playing for the Balmain Tigers and Wests Tigers before joining the Cowboys, his first season with the Townsville club came in 2004.
In just his first year at the club, he won the Cowboys Player of the Year Award. The next year, he played an active role in the Cowboys 2005 season that led to a grand final appearance.
Suffering a severe hamstring injury in 2007, he was ruled out for the remainder of the season and forced to claw his way back for the 2008 season. He copped a 7-week suspension in 2008 for two separate incidents – striking and abusing an official. He won the Cowboys Player of the Year for a second time in 2009.
He was also selected in the City v Country match and for NSW that year. He played in the NRL All-Stars game in his final year and happened to be sent off twice during his Cowboys career.

14. John Buttigieg – The hulking prop made his Cowboys debut in 1995 and spent his entire club career with the Cowboys. Playing in a total of 101 games for the club over 9 seasons, he won the Players’ Player Award in 1999. He also made three appearances for Queensland across the 2002-03 seasons.

15. Paul Rauhihi – Enjoying a small 3-year stint with the Cowboys, in that short time, Rauhihi both made an impact and became a favourite. Prior to that, he had played for both the Newcastle Knights and the Canterbury Bulldogs.
In 2003, he won the club’s Player of the Year Award after a solid individual season. The following year, he was captain for a while after Paul Bowman was injured and he captained again in 2005 when Travis Norton was injured.
2005 proved to the final year for Rauhihi at the club but he performed well individually as did the team, before they eventually lost in the grand final. In the end, he played in a total of 72 games for the club.

16. Mark Shipway – A versatile centre and back-rower, Shipway’s professional debut for the Cowboys came in 1997. An under-rated player during those years, he worked hard and forged a reputation as an honest toiler that impressed. In total, across his time at the club, he played in 91 NRL games and scored 9 tries in the process.
At the end of the 2001 season, he departed and played for the Northern Eagles and the Manly Sea Eagles, before going on to play for the Salford Devils.

17. Kyle Warren – A talented utility, Warren’s versatility saw him cover numerous positions during his time at the Cowboys. Over the course of his club career, he played fullback, centre, wing, front row, back row and lock, but he performed well no matter where he played.
His versatility is a testament to his approach to the game, playing where required. He enjoyed five seasons with the club, starting in the 1997 Super League season before finishing up in the 2001 season.
Across those 5 seasons, he played 87 games and scored 26 tries.