The North Queensland Cowboys will be minus their superstar halfback but an injury free Michael Morgan can go a long way to making up for that.
Will the new look Cowboys side return to their glory days or will they really miss the departing Thurston?
Kurt Baptiste (Sydney Roosters, 2019), Nene Macdonald (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021), Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos, 2022), Tom Opacic (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Dan Russell (2020)
Josh Chudleigh (released), Lachlan Coote (St Helens RLFC), Shaun Fensom (Brisbane Broncos), Sam Hoare (released), Shaun Hudson (released), Kyle Laybutt (released), Kane Linnett (Hull Kingston Rovers), Johnathan Thurston (retired), Antonio Winterstein (retired)
Having taken the off-season to think about it, I still can’t quite put my finger on why the Cowboys fell away so drastically in 2018.
The 2015 Premiers, fell one game short of a Grand Final in 2016 before making the decider in 2017. The less said about their 2018 season, the better.
Johnathan Thurston’s retirement tour was incredible to watch, but it was a sad way to see one of the, if not the, best of the generation, go out without playing finals footy in his last year.
Michael Morgan’s injury ended their already faltering season. Cowboys mainstays Linnett, Winterstein and Lowe became bit part players, which changed the guard up north.
It’s hard to understand a side with names Thurston, Taumalolo, Cooper and Hess could fail to play finals footy.
With the return of Morgan, and signings of McDonald and McGuire on board, the 2019 Cowboys will look to prove 2018 was a blip rather than the new norm.
Best Signing: Josh McGuire
Truthfully I had Barba down here not only as the Cowboys best signing but perhaps the competition’s best recruit. As he will not be lining up in round one, McGuire steps forward as more than a handy recruit.
The current Maroons and Kangaroo lock, McGuire will likely have to play a different role for his new side, most likely in the front row.
Despite the plethora of young forwards on Brisbane’s books, I was shocked to see the rep certainty allowed to move north. The Cowboys have done very well here.
A massive inclusion for an already star-studded Cowboys pack.
Young Gun/One To Watch: Enari Tuala
20-year-old centre Enari Tuala enters his third season at NRL level, having debuted late in 2017, but will be a faux rookie in 2018.
With Kane Linnett having left the club Tuala looks set to continue on in the jersey he filled late in 2018.
The experience he would have gained playing for the PMs XI then the Junior Kangaroos will be invaluable for one of the game’s genuine young guns.
He’ll see plenty of ball, given Michael Morgan will be running the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing this kid develop. It’s not an overly brave call but I’m calling Tuala as one of the breakout stars this year.
Most Important Player: Michael Morgan
Who doesn’t love Michael Morgan? I am so happy to see him back after we were robbed through injury to see him return to his best following an underwhelming start to 2018.
Morgan in late 2017 was the best player on the planet. The way he took a busted and almost hopeless Cowboys outfit to the Grand Final was matched only by peak Jarryd Hayne.
The utility superstar will slot back into five-eighth after a run at fullback in what is now well and truly his team.
With Morgan pulling the strings behind a superstar forward pack and with weapons like Tuala at his disposal, sign me up!!!
Recruitment Grade: B-
The Cowboys had a straight A recruitment grade until Barba’s actions landed his side without a recognised number one.
Ethan Lowe looks like being a bench forward while Matt Scott wasn’t his match-winning best in 2018. Josh McGuire’s arrival fills either a front row or lock position perfectly.
Nene Macdonald is a huge threat, literally, out wide and should score a mountain of tries in 2019.
Kurt Baptiste and Tom Opacic will be in the running for the early rounds.
The Cowboys had originally completed the best recruitment across the competition. Sans Barba, they’ve still done very well, but as it stands they need a fullback.
The Cowboys will run out in 2019 with a far different squad to their 2018 selves. I’d say a fresh squad and one that looks better placed to play finals footy than last season.
That will sound ridiculous considering the big name of Thurston will be absent this year, but I like the look of the 2019 Cowboys.
That back row of Hess, Cooper and Taumalolo is second to none. Throw in Josh McGuire and Matt Scott and the Cowboys have one of the best packs across the competition.
Their back line looks far more dangerous this year. Nene Macdonald is a hugely underrated signing.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing Michael Morgan returning to the side. He had a wonderful 2017 but failed to kick on before his injury last year.
This side could play finals footy. I have them just missing the cut due to a lack of depth and the fact Thurston hasn’t really been replaced. How could he?
I feel I may regret predicting them finishing outside the eight, but ninth for mine.