SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston talks to team mates during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys at Allianz Stadium on September 23, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Actual Finish: 4th

Cowboys 2020 Player Movements

2020 Gains
Scott Drinkwater (Melbourne Storm, 2021), Reece Robson (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2023)
2020 Losses
Carlin Anderson (released), Kurt Baptiste (released), Scott Bolton (retired), Javid Bowen (released), Jordan Kahu (released), Nene Macdonald (released), Gideon Mosby-Gela (released), Matthew Scott (retired), Enari Tuala (released)
Re-Signed
Gavin Cooper (2020), Reuben Cotter (2020), Mitchell Dunn (2020), Ben Hampton (2021), Coen Hess (2022), Corey Jensen (2021), Murray Taulagi (2021)
Off Contract 2019
Te Maire Martin

The Cowboys proved their 2015 success was no fluke by finishing in the top four yet again in 2016 and coming within a game of the chance to defend their crown.

Superstar halves Thurston and Morgan were once again at the centre of everything in attack, while Jason Taumalolo established himself as the best forward in the game.

Nothing about 2016 surprised many, given the success enjoyed in 2015, but the Cowboys showed they were able to handle expectation and played well in the role of the hunted rather than the hunters.

History shows just how hard it is to go back-to-back in the modern game, and the Cowboys looked possibly the best placed to give it a crack, and they can be very proud of their efforts.

Best Player: Johnathan Thurston

Thurston, once again, showed why he is arguably the NRL’s most important player, let alone his importance at club level.

25 try assists across the NRL regular season follows on from last season’s 28. Despite his age, he shows no signs of slowing down and seems to get even smarter in his decision making every season.

He still has the best kicking game in the competition and the ability to dictate a game almost from start to finish.

He was well contained in the loss to the Sharks that ended their season, and it hurt the side, thus again proving how important he is to the side as if we didn’t already know.

Season Highlight: 36-0 win over the Bulldogs in round 20

The win over the Broncos in the second round of the finals was a far more important win, and truth be told a far better game, but the Cowboys were irresistible against the Bulldogs.

To call it a contest would be an absolute rort, as this game was never a contest, with the Cowboys even sans their superstar halfback for the final 35 minutes, never troubled.

Michael Morgan’s try-assist for Justin O’Neill off the boot was probably the highlight of the night, but this game will be remembered for the fact the Cowboys shot out of the gate, leading 12-0 before ten minutes, and were never troubled.

Winterstein crossed for his hattrick in the final minute, capping off a wonderful night for the defending premiers.

Best Signing: Ben Hampton

For the second straight season, the Cowboys were hardly spotted in the transfer market given the success their side has enjoyed and their incredible Toyota Cup side.

Ben Hampton is the only player signed with NRL experience and picks up the nod almost by default, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have the ability.

Hampton is a versatile player who has been under the mentorship of Craig Bellamy for the past few seasons, so there is plenty of upside in his signing.

He will likely play off the bench and fill in at number nine however he could be pushed into the halves come Origin time, and play a very important role over that tough period.

The Positives:

– Re-signing spree: I don’t know how the Cowboys manage to keep their stars but again they managed to re-sign Lachlan Coote, Javid Bowen, Kane Linnett, Ethan Lowe, Justin O’Neill and Antonio Winterstein despite upgrades being warranted for all players listed. They did lose Hannant and Tamou but the large majority of their 2015 championship side remains at the club.

– Thurston rep retirement: Thurston’s decision to retire from representative football at the end of 2017 will likely see his career at the Cowboys extended. At 33 years of age, the future immortal has done it all and will hang up his rep boots at the end of the World Cup at year’s end. If he wants to, Thurston can certainly play on for at least another season or two after this one. That looks more likely given the decision.

Season Grading: B+

The Cowboys were unable to defy the odds to defend their NRL crowd, but they certainly came close.

The game against the Broncos really took their energy away and they ran into a red-hot Cronulla outfit, which ultimately ended their season one game short of a second straight Grand Final.

Nothing that hasn’t already been said about the likes of Thurston and Taumalolo can be added, they are simply two of the, if not the best, players in the competition.

They have lost a mountain of experience up front in losing both Hannant and Tamou, but given the players awaiting a first-grade call-up from their successful Toyota Cup side, there is no reason that the Cowboys should not be a force again in 2017.

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