North Queensland Cowboys
Season Preview

North Queensland Cowboys
Season Preview

2010 Position: 15th (5 wins, 19 losses)

Gains: Antonio Winterstein (Brisbane Broncos), Brent Tate (New Zealand Warriors), Tariq Sims (Brisbane Broncos NYC), Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ashton Sims (Brisbane Broncos), Ricky Thorby (St George Illawarra Dragons), Gavin Cooper (Penrith Panthers), Dallas Johnson (Catalans Dragons, ESL), Ben Jones (Sydney Roosters), Blake Leary (Melbourne Storm), Lancen Joudo (Cronulla Sharks)

Losses: Steve Rapira (New Zealand Warriors), Anthony Watts (Sydney Roosters), Luke O’Donnell (Huddersfield Giants, ESL), Ty Williams (Retirement), Carl Webb (Parramatta Eels), Willie Mason (Hull Kingston Rovers, ESL), Arana Taumata (Penrith Panthers), John Williams (Cronulla Sharks), Dayne Weston (Penrith Panthers)

Cowboys have developed an image problem in recent years. Formerly they were the untameable hard men of the Wild West, living dangerously and playing by their own rules. Nowadays when they’re mentioned, the image of men prancing around and playfully tussling each other’s hair is what first comes to mind. Alternatively, you may also think of the movie featuring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and a mountain. Of course, the prancing men whom I referred to just prior are the Rugby League team. More specifically the team that graced us with their presence in 2010. Despite this woeful season which the club experienced, the Cowboys can still look to the 2011 season with a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

The Cowboys are a team that have underperformed for many a year now. They have boasted a team with plenty of representative stars but still haven’t made a serious claim for the title since 2007. Current rumours of a rift between the playing group and coaching staff persist, thus looking to spoil another season for the North Queensland club. With this alleged rift in mind, it is fortunate for the club and its fans, that the 2010 season has resulted with a clean out of the roster and a host of fresh faces to reignite the club’s premiership chances.

The departure of names such as Webb, O’Donnell and Kaufusi (mid-season) would be a concern in previous years but the undeniable truth is that these players were stagnant at the Cowboys. The club has done well to replace these and other losses with a tidal wave of fresh young potential, reliable consistency and level headed experience.

The Cowboys back line in 2010 was a major disappointment. They were brittle in defence and offered very little in attack. It didn’t help that the halves combination was inconsistent throughout the year. Even though Johnathan Thurston was at the helm, nobody else within the club stood up.  At times Thompson, Morgan and Taumata showed some promise but it wasn’t enough to truly cement a spot. The positive news for the Cowboys is that with Thurston’s contract renewal, they can persist with building a team around the superstar half. The halves quandary may get a shake up with Ben Jones looking to seize an opportunity at the club. Whilst Thompson and Morgan will benefit from the experience they gained in 2010.

The actual back line itself has undergone a significant revamp. On the wings, the club has signed Antonio Winterstein, a consistent performer with a bright future ahead and Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa, whose dazzling footwork and spark will terrorise many defences out on the edge this coming season. The Cowboys also made a solid move by luring the experienced Brent Tate to the club to partner Tonga in the centres. The seasoned Tate looked to have his career back on track but a saddening injury will see his career on hold and will leave a significant hole out wide for the Cowboys. The fullback spot sees a battle between Gallant and Bowen, with Bowen’s injury woes another off-season in the past, he will look to recapture his form that saw him as one of the crowd favourites for many years. With the right players combined, the Cowboys may recapture that spark which saw them as the entertainment machine of the NRL.

In the forward stakes, much has changed for the North Queensland franchise as well. The biggest signing of all is that of lock Dallas Johnson. The talented workaholic will make a much awaited return to the NRL and will be looking to impress, not just for the sake of the North Queensland faithful but to reclaim an Origin jersey as well. Newcomers Gavin Cooper and Glenn Hall will look to fight it out for a spot in the second row alongside Scott Bolton, who will build upon a boom 2010 season. Up front, the Cowboys have gone for some young grunt to support Origin rep Matt Scott. James Tamou and Dane Hogan have renewed and will be joined by Tariq Sims and Ricky Thorby, all of whom will be eager to secure a spot in the 2011 side. With a roster full of promise, the only doubt remains over whether coach Neil Henry can unite the team and see them realise their potential.

What went wrong in 2010: The 2010 season was a year to forget for the Cowboys. They were only saved from the spoon by the virtue of Ian Schubert’s investigative abilities. The rumours of the previously mentioned rift between players and coach did not subside and worst of all, the players simply did not perform. It seemed that apart from a few players, the team played without any real desire or heart. The numbers tell the same story, with the Cowboys ending the year with the third worst attack and the worst defence of any team.

What went right in 2010: The re-signing of superstar Thurston is the most notable mention. The club can now look to build a side of premiership winning potential around the star half. Scott Bolton had an outstanding season and was on the verge of earning a QLD Origin jersey. Matt Scott continued his outstanding form and Matt Bowen showed signs of recovery over his injuries which have hampered him in recent years.

Final say for 2011: Gus Gould may have turned his back on helping the struggling club in their 2011 preparations but fans shouldn’t give up hope just yet. The club has experienced a clean out in the off-season and is most definitely poised to bounce back. Whilst it would be a bit bold to claim that they’ll threaten for a Premiership, with a player like Thurston leading the charge, the side can still scrape into the 8. With the region being devastated by Cyclone Yasi, it is more important than ever that the club shows some heart and passion that have been lacking in recent seasons. The North Queensland people will be looking for their team to show the same resilience they have and will hopefully be inspired by what the team manages on the field. With a refreshed roster the Cowboys are poised to shake the 2011 season up and will prove a handful for all teams that venture into the far north.

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