TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07: The Cowboys look dejected after losing the round six NRL match between North Queensland Cowboys and Dolphins at Qld Country Bank Stadium on April 07, 2023 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The North Queensland Cowboys come into the 2024 season off what can only be described as a disappointing slide over the last 12 months, and they will be desperate to prove their preliminary final appearance in 2022 wasn't simply a flash in the pan.

But to prove that, Todd Payten's side are going to have to overcome some significant roadblocks, although they have already taken a handful of steps to address the biggest issues.

Even with some steps taken in Townsville though, that certainly doesn't mean the Cowboys come into the new campaign as a favoured team likely to turn things around.

Their form last year was nothing short of abysmal as they collapsed from a preliminary final in 2022 to missing the top eight altogether in 2023. That said, their horror fade down the table was somewhat sheltered thanks to abysmal performances from a number of other finals-sliding clubs.

Here are the questions that will determine whether the Cowboys make their way back up the table in 2024, or are set for another season of poor results.

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1. Is Chad Townsend still an NRL-level player?

Chad Townsend joined the Cowboys in 2022 and, to a certain degree, wound back the clock to have something close to his best season in the NRL as he guided a team widely tipped for the bottom four into the preliminary finals.

But boy did that not last.

2023 was a disaster for Townsend, who lacked creativity, lost his accurate kicking game and had little to no control or influence over the results of his team.

Of course, that isn't the only problem the Cowboys faced in 2023 as they slumped into the bottom half of the ladder, but it's impossible to suggest any team with a misfiring fullback are going to be able to set the world on fire.

The bottom line is they need a spark in attack. You could argue they should have plenty of that through Scott Drinkwater and Tom Dearden, as well as the excellent Reece Robson at hooker.

But if they can't get it right at seven this year, then the rest of it becomes a moot point.

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