Predicted Finish: 5th
Actual Finish: 8th (Runners-Up)
Best Performer: Michael Morgan
Check these numbers one, and please keep in mind these don’t even factor in the finals. 10 tries, 10 line breaks, 15 try assists, and over 75 running metres per game. Not bad for a half missing his partner in crime, who just so happens to be the best halfback of the modern era. Also missing was arguably the best front rower in the competition. Morgan took the NRL by the neck and dominated in every facet as the season drew to a close. It was his performances that took the Cowboys to the most unlikely of final’s appearances, and it was his efforts that saw them glide all the way into the decider. He was rewarded with a Kangaroos jersey is the front-runner to take over from Thurston and Cronk for the Maroons next season. He was always a star but it was his 2017 effort that saw him become a genuine superstar of our game.
Season Highlight: That finals run
By all rights, the Cowboys shouldn’t have made the finals. They certainly shouldn’t have beaten the Sharks in Sydney. No chance they should have beaten the Eels, or the Roosters. They just shouldn’t have … but they did. The North Queenslanders limped into the finals after winning just one of their last six fixtures. Only an upset loss by the Dragons saw them play finals footy, where they were expected to be sent packing by the defending premiers. Not only did they end their title defence, but they then knocked out the high flying Eels and second-placed Roosters, all in Sydney. Unfortunately, they fell short against the red-hot Storm but those three sudden-death wins will never be forgotten by fans of the club.
Best Signing: Jordan McLean
The hulking Kangaroos prop will add even more intimidation factor to an already scary Cowboys pack next season. He and the returning Matt Scott won’t lose too many battles in the middle, which should allow Morgan and Thurston to run riot. He had a magnificent 2017 season capped off by being selected for the Kangaroos. He now has a World Cup winner’s medal in his back pocket and a huge opportunity up north. If he produces another year like he did this season, a NSW jersey is surely in his future. Although he averaged over 100 metres a game in 2017, I’d expect to see that rise in the new year as his minutes will also surely go up.
Life after JT: The Cowboys amazing run to the Grand Final was made even more impressive by the fact they did it without the game’s premier playmaker in one Johnathan Thurston. Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin proved that there is life after JT by leading their side to the final game of the season. Martin was great but Morgan was amazing. It’s a shame to think Martin will be relegated to a bench or reserve grade position after his efforts following a mid-season switch from Penrith. The two halves, along with a re-energised Lachlan Coote took control of games in their superstar’s absence and calmed a lot of fears of a post JT retirement hangover.
Best forward of the modern era: Calling it now; Jason Taumalolo is the best forward in modern-day rugby league. He is an absolute freak of the highest order, and will stitch up the lock of the year award as long as he stays healthy. Suspension meant he was pipped by Paul Gallen this year, but I’d be willing to bet he’ll win at least five more before he hangs up the boots. In 2017 he averaged over 200 metres per game before the finals. His ‘worst’ effort of the season was 116. 116! The damage he does coming off the bench with 25 minutes to go is unparalleled. He changed games the second he came back on. He had a wonderful tournament for Tonga and pretty much saved international rugby league in the process.
Same team to go one further next year?: The Cowboys were beaten on the final day of the season by one of the greatest sides in living memory. They were sans Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston. Having been able to re-sign the large majority of their main roster, while also adding a Kangaroo level prop in Jordan McLean, there is no reason they can’t avenge that loss next season. In the past few years, they have won a title, made a grand final, and been to a grand final qualifier. All with pretty much the same team. It’s incredible. No other team, not even Melbourne, has been able to keep as many players as the Cowboys.
Season Grading: A+
Despite falling just short on the first day of October, no one in their right mind would say the Cowboys deserve anything other than an A+ grading for 2017.
That said, had the Dragons done their part and beaten the Bulldogs on the final day of the regular season, we’d be reading a wrap up on a C- or even D grading. Such was the strength of the run that came in the finals.
The Cowboys will start at almost even odds to make the top eight next year, and won’t be worth much for a top four spot either. They have the game’s best forward, the game’s best halfback, and a player, in Morgan, who could very well take over Thurston’s mantle in the next few years.
There is absolutely no weakness in this side moving forward.
Although they scraped into the eight due to a huge slice of luck, the fact they put themselves in that situation whilst missing their chief play-maker as well as their biggest name prop says it all about this side.
They had a wow of a season and a lop-sided loss to the Storm should, and won’t, change that. Incredible!