Premiership Odds: (via $8.00

Big Ins: Shaun Hudson, Jahrome Hughes

Big Outs: Glenn Hall, Robert Lui

The Cowboys had a dream 2015 which ended in premiership glory in one of the greatest NRL games of all time.

Johnathan Thurston’s field goal capped off a supreme season that looked a world away after three straight losses to start 2015.

The recruitment and retention team deserves a pay rise as they managed to hold onto the very large majority of their premiership winning squad.

Even their perceived weakness, their outside backs, improved out of sight in 2015.

I see no reason they can’t be there or there abouts again in 2016.

Key Player: Johnathan Thurston

Current Dally M medalist Johnathan Thurston would be THE key player in ANY side in any competition in the world.

It was near impossible that he could produce a season that could surpass what he had produced during his incredible career to date, but in 2015 he did just that.

Thurston is coming off a career-best season where he achieved literally everything, but he is certainly not a player who lacks motivation.

This is a first ballot future immortal with a brilliant supporting cast in and outside him. If I were betting, my money would be on him retaining that Dally M medal.

Young Gun: John Asiata

22 year-old John Asiata burst onto the scene in a huge way in 2015. He played 21 games in a title-winning season, not bad for a second year NRL player.

Asiata’s involvement will increase this season, especially during the Origin period.

His confidence will be extremely high after a brilliant 2015 season, so there is no reason he can’t continue his development.

Confidence and talent are two tools in Asiata’s arsenal, as are two world-class play makers and the best front row in the competition. Not a bad set of circumstances to develop.

Best Signing: Shaun Hudson

Shaun Hudson will not be a household name by any stretch, and I doubt he’ll even be one by the end of 2016, such is the strength of the Cowboys squad.

That being said, he’s a talented youngster, and a former co-captain of the Titans Holden Cup side, meaning he has leadership qualities.

A skilful outside back, his versatility will come in handy should there be a series of injuries.

He will slot into the outside backs of the QLD cup side that finished runners up, meaning he will have plenty of talented players around him to continue his development

He may or may not play first grade in 2016, but given his talent he certainly has first grade in his future.

Strength: Have maintained the same 17 that won the title last season

The Cowboys have retained the 17 players who took the park in their historic Grand Final victory last October as well as the majority of backup players.

In the “big outs” I could only list two reserve graders who to be honest wouldn’t feature unless there was a major injury crisis at the club.

From one through to 13 they’re one of the top two or three sides, and they have an impactful bench that is once again in the top two or three.

They were given a huge shot of confidence when Paul Green turned down a chance to coach QLD in order to build a dynasty at the club. That in itself is huge.

Weakness: It’s near impossible to go back-to-back

South Sydney proved how hard it is to go back to back, after dominating 2015 they were well off the pace just 12 months later.

The Cowboys have a very similar look to their squad, and an unchanged first 17, from 2015, so they’ll be ready to hit the ground running again in 2016.

Kane Linnett and Justin O’Neill are not amongst the top centre pairings in the competition, despite their improvement last year, so the pressure will again be on Thurston and Morgan.

Morgan had a season to remember last season and it’s tough to produce two seasons of that quality back-to-back.

Strongest 17:

1. Lachlan Coote
2. Kyle Feldt
3. Justin O’Neill
4. Kane Linnett
5. Antonio Winterstein
6. Michael Morgan
7. Johnathan Thurston
8. Matt Scott
9. Jake Granville
10. James Tamou
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Ethan Lowe
13. Jason Taumalolo

14. Ben Hannant
15. Scott Bolton
16. John Asiata
17. Rory Kostjasyn

Prediction: 2nd

Any side containing the likes of Thurston and Morgan in the halves and Scott and Tamou in the forwards is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

They’ll have to defy history to retain their title, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Thurston-led Cowboys.

Like each NRL premiership winner, they’ll come into the next season with a target on them, especially early in the season.

Injury crisis aside, there is no reason this side cannot finish in the top two and feature once again deep into September.

Can they retain their title? My money is elsewhere, but in the minor premiership, they’re a top four side at very least, and Thurston is good enough to land them a top two finish.

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