The North Queensland Cowboys might have been in the bottom four at the end of 2021, but it's tough to see that changing in the 12 months ahead.

With recruitment decisions that don't make sense, questions over key players and an inability to play away from home, it could be a long winter for the Cowboys and their fans.

Here is their full season preview for 2022.

2021 Season

The Cowboys started the 2021 season slowly before six wins in eight games saw them right back in the race for the finals spot. As it sat at Origin time, they looked destined for the top eight.

Unfortunately, they would win only one following their Round 13 bye: a 12-point win over fellow struggles the Dragons.

Valentine Holmes failed to deliver on the excitement, and money, that his signing created. He was shifted out of the fullback spot he insisted he could fill.

Jason Taumalolo became a bit-part player despite being the game's best forward and one of the highest-paid individuals in the code's history.

Simply put, the Cowboys were pretty dire in 2021 outside of that brilliant two-month period.

Off-Season Moves

2022 gains
Brendan Elliot (2022), Peta Hiku (New Zealand Warriors, 2023), Jordan Lipp (2023), Morgan McWhirter (2022), Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (New Zealand Warriors, 2023), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks, 2024), Tyreece Woods (2022)

NRL Rd 16 - Warriors v Knights
TAMWORTH, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 29: Peta Hiku of the Warriors makes a break during the round 16 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Newcastle Knights at Scully Park on August 29, 2020 in Tamworth, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

2022 losses
Javid Bowen (retired), Wiremu Greig (Parramatta Eels), Peter Hola (Canberra Raiders), Corey Jensen (Brisbane Broncos), Esan Marsters (Gold Coast Titans), Josh McGuire (St George Illawarra Dragons), Francis Molo (St George Illawarra Dragons), Michael Morgan (retired), Justin O'Neill (retired), Shane Wright (Salford Red Devils)

Recruitment Impact

The Cowboys have added two veterans to their run-on side in Chad Townsend and Peta Hiku. Both walk into the side in Round 1, with Hiku especially improving them right away.

Michael Morgan is the big out having been forced into an early retirement, however he missed almost all of last season. Justin O'Neill had a magnificent time in Townsville but was way past his very best.

Otherwise, the squad has been filled by fringe players. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown has a big upside and should see plenty of first grade action in early 2022.

Big money was spent to turn around a side who struggled in 2021. I'm not sure it was spent overly wisely.

Talking points

Can Valentine Holmes switch to centre?: Valentine Holmes was a marquee signing for the Cowboys. He is being paid as such. Unfortunately, he is yet to live up to the status of being a marquee signing. The world's best winger is being paid fullback money to play in the centres. Ok... I guess?

NRL Rd 3 - Cowboys v Titans
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: Valentine Holmes of the Cowboys passes the ball during the round three NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Gold Coast Titans at QCB Stadium on May 29, 2020 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

What to do with Scott Drinkwater?: As it stands, Scott Drinkwater looks both the best option in the halves, and also unlikely to be there in Round 1. A bench role completely wastes his talents while I can't see him in the centres. Todd Payten oversaw his re-signing despite two incoming halves. I trust he has a plan.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at number one?: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is one of the game's most exciting young players. He has already tasted the Origin arena and his move to fullback shapes as season-defining. For the record I am 100 per cent behind this. The Hammer needs to touch the ball with both regularity and space in front of him. Big ask for a player who has thus far stared in the outside backs.

Key Player:

Jason Taumalolo
Todd Payten has to get this right. Jason Taumalolo needs to be allowed to play the position he wishes and the minutes he wishes.

The Cowboys committed to Taumalolo in a monster deal of an unprecedented length. Just two years later the game has changed and suddenly the best in the business was relegated to the underwhelming role he played in 2021.

The thinking is that they don't want him to burn out, with so many contracted years to come. That is absolute rubbish and detrimental to the Cowboys 2022.

Taumalolo is a monster and should be playing 60 minutes at lock. If Payten doesn't allow this to happen, I dare say the club will start searching for someone who will.

Watch Rugby League Outlaws discuss the Cowboys in their Season Preview

Big Season For: Chad Townsend

The Cowboys went out and trumped approximately zero solid or confirmed competing offers to deliver the premiership-winning half.

The fact remains that in 2021 he was dropped by an interim coach after some horror performances while then Sharks fans literally danced when the deal delivering him to Townsville was announced.

Townsend has a chance to show all those fans up whilst overseeing a rebuild in a new environment.

With Scott Drinkwater and Thomas Dearden in the squad, a slow start to the season combined with the massive money being laid out will certainly force pressure.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Chad Townsend of the Sharks passes during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Breakout Star: Murray Taulagi

Happy to admit to slightly cheating here as Taulagi played 20 games in 2021, but I like what I saw so much that I'm happy to predict he performs even better in 2022.

At 22 years of age, he has the world at his feet. He has the size, power and try-scoring ability to make a big impact in the upcoming season.

With either Valentine Holmes or Peta Hiku playing inside him at centre, he should see plenty of ball and be presented with plenty of opportunities.

My guess is that he'll cash in!

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: Murray Taulagi of the Cowboys scores a try during the round 12 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the New Zealand Warriors at QCB Stadium, on May 28, 2021, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Fixtures to watch

Round 3 vs Broncos: The original Queensland rivalry seems to mean even more now that there's three teams, about to become four. Bragging rights are on the line in Round 3 at Suncorp Stadium.

Round 18 vs Sharks: Valentine Holmes and Chad Townsend; two names who played a big part in the Sharks 2016 premiership win. This will be the first time the two title-winning stars team up against their former side together.

Round 10 vs Tigers (Magic Round): Magic Round is one most teams mark on the calendar, however, if the Cowboys are going to avoid a wooden spoon battle, these are the kind of games they need to win.


Despite some major attacking talent, I just can't see where the points come from. With the greatest of respect, a Dearden and Townsend halves partnership falls in the bottom few.

Todd Payton is going to take some massive risks this season. If they pay off, it puts him and the side in good stead. If they don't, he will almost certainly be looking for a new role in 2023 and beyond.

The Cowboys forward pack worries me greatly. I never thought I'd say that about a pack containing Jason Taumalolo, but who else in that run on side would worry many oppositions?

They have the talent to make this prediction look very foolish, but everything is going to have to go right for the Cowboys to avoid a very serious wooden spoon battle.