On the back of all time performances by Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan the Cowboys managed to defeat the Sharks, Eels and Roosters en route to the decider. Although they would ultimately fall at the final hurdle, it was to one of the greatest sides of the modern era.
To make the efforts even more superhuman the Cowboys made the Grand Final without their co-captains, two pretty handy names in the form of Thurston and Scott. Throw those two back into the mix and the other 15 NRL sides have reason to worry.
The Cowboys have won a grand final, played in another, and reached a grand final qualifier in the past three seasons. There’s a very chance that they will also be playing to send Johnathan Thurston out a winner. The last thing the other teams need is this Cowboys side with more motivation.
Recruitment Grading: B+
The Cowboys have lost Kalyn Ponga and Patrick Kaufusi to the Knights and Storm respectively yet managed to keep their side intact otherwise. In terms of ‘ins’ there’s probably only one of any instant significance, but what an ‘in’ it is. Current Kangaroo prop and 2017 premiership winning bookend Jordan McLean joins the squad to round out the game’s best forward pack. Matt Scott returns from an extended injury lay-off to form an all representative front row, joining Taumalolo, Cooper and Lowe who make up the back row. Given the run the Cowboys went on in the 2017 finals series, plus the return of Scott and Thurston, the last thing the other 15 clubs needed was for the Cowboys to become even stronger. They certainly have with McLean’s arrival.
Star Player: Michael Morgan
Everyone wrote the Cowboys off last season when Johnathan Thurston got injured. I remember the number of people who said, confidently, that the Cowboys could not and would not make the eight after JT went down for the reason. I was one of them. You take arguably the game’s best player out of the side and it changes everything. Michael Morgan had other ideas, driving a resistance that had to be seen to be believed. Surely they couldn’t travel to Sydney to beat the Sharks. They did. Surely Parra would bounce them. They did not. Surely the red-hot Roosters would end the underdog story. They could not. Morgan scored 10 tries, laid on 17 try assists and made 10 line breaks BEFORE the incredible finals series run he powered. He is the heir to Thurston’s Origin jumper and should form an absolute weapon of a combination with either Cameron Munster or Anthony Milford. Scary times ahead for the Blues. You could obviously put either Thurston or Taumalolo here also but for mine, Morgan is the main man in 2018.
Can the Cowboys go one step better in 2018? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) February 2, 2018
Strength: World’s best halves combination/forward pack
I’m calling it right now, the Cowboys have the world’s best halves combination and the game’s best run-on forward pack. Thurston and Morgan are in rare territory. Thurston is one of the greatest, if not the greatest halfback I’ve ever seen in my 32 years of age. Michael Morgan has produced three amazing seasons in a row and seems to get better after every off-season. Up front, they have Scott, McLean, Taumalolo, Lowe and Cooper. Coen Hess can’t even make the run-on side. That’s insanity. That forward pack won’t lose many battles which should make the Thurston/Morgan combo even more dangerous. Yikes.
Weakness: Possible back-line deficiencies
This is going to sound like nitpicking, and to be fair it probably is. While the Cowboys have the best halves and forward pack in the competition, their back line slightly brings them back to the field. Although there’s not a bad player in the back five in Townsville, they lack the likes of a Vunivalu, Mansour or Holmes out wide. Justin O’Neill has played rep footy but has suffered a drop in form. Linnett, Winterstein and Feldt are all solid players, but once again they are not exactly breaking the walls down for selection in state or national sides. Coote remains one of the game’s most underappreciated players but once again he will be opposed by the likes of Slater and Tedesco.
Despite my nitpicking there really is no weakness in this side. They have a monster pack including the world’s best forward, the best halves combo in rugby league, a clever number nine, an all premiership winning back five, and a successful coach. Their bench is full of size, power and talent.
The Cowboys also have one of the most advantageous home grounds in the game given the flight time, the heat and the rabid, one-sided crowds.
There is absolutely no reason in the world this side should not be there on Grand Final day to avenge their 2017 defeat.
Rugby league is a funny game but the Cowboys are about as sure a thing for a top-four prediction as you can get. Surely not even I can jinx this side because they’re going to go mighty close, if not win it all, in 2018.