The Cowboys have been an odd side thus far in 2020, turning it on against Newcastle one week, switching off against Parramatta the next. With key players set to return, how will the parts fit together?
Val Holmes, while managing varying injuries, hasn’t looked himself since returning to the NRL. He’s down on confidence, shaky under the high ball and at times unsure when to inject himself into the attack.
He has won a premiership on the wing and once scored 11 tries in two games for the Kangaroos, not to mention his impressive eight tries in five games for Queensland on the flank.
Whilst not permanent, a switch to the left wing would do Holmes good in the long term, and allow him to go back to the basics and rediscover his form. Having Holmes on one wing and Kyle Feldt on the other will be a huge advantage in both starting sets, and finishing them.
Esan Marsters looked lost defensively against Parramatta and can’t continually perform like that and expect to be picked by Paul Green, but a reprieve looks likely. Justin O’Neill is discovering some form we haven’t seen from him in a long time, and should sit in the centres inside Val Holmes.
The halves pairing is interesting for sure. Jake Clifford some of his best football in the NRL against the Knights, but put the cue in the rack early against the Eels and trying to play off a struggling forward pack.
Scott Drinkwater started the season with a bang at the Nines and has looked electric this season, without being a dominant force.
You can’t expect either of these blokes to improve if they’re not playing first-grade, and they’re both NRL quality. So where does that leave club captain Michael Morgan?
Still a month away from returning from a shoulder injury, moving Holmes to the flank allows Michael Morgan to step back into the fullback spot, a role he’s spent 33 of his 162 NRL games in.
As captain, he can still be vocal from the back and position the defence, whilst injecting himself into their attack and using his speed around the ruck. The move also heavily reduces the amount of tackling he’d have to do, with a host of minor and major injuries over the last few seasons.
It protects his body, and allows Clifford to direct play, Drinkwater to play off the back of Taumalolo and co, and a back three of Morgan, Holmes and Feldt on the kick returns.
This could revitalise North Queensland’s attack in the same fashion that the injection of Matt Moylan improved Cronulla’s offence.
With the scheming of boom rookie Reece Robson around the ruck, there’s no doubt he could create a great combination with the likes of Morgan, Clifford and Drinkwater to punch several holes through the middle, and run off the back of Taumalolo and Josh McGuire’s offloads.
Morgan’s Round 12-14 return date allows time for Holmes to find his confidence and the likes of Tom Opacic, Ben Hampton and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to stake their claim for a backline spot, but if not, expect the notion of Morgan to feature at fullback becoming more popular closer to his return date.
PROPOSED COWBOYS’ BACKLINE
- Michael Morgan (c)
- Valentine Holmes
- Justin O’Neill
- Esan Marsters
- Kyle Feldt
- Scott Drinkwater
- Jake Clifford