With the season opener just around the corner; we look at how the North Queensland Cowboys will go in 2018.
With the return of representative co-captains, Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott, the Cowboys are in good stead to bring a second premiership to Townsville in the space of three years.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Jordan McLean (Melbourne Storm), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers), Francis Molo (Brisbane Broncos), Carlin Anderson (Queensland Cup).
Ray Thompson (Retirement), Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights), Braden Uele (Cronulla Sharks), Patrick Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm).
Sharks (H), Broncos (A), Storm (A), Panthers (H), Warriors (A)
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s the Cowboys premiership to lose in 2018. Making it to the Grand Final without Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott last season was one of the great underdog stories of recent memory. With their return – along with the acquisition of Jordan McLean – North Queensland are set to be a formidable foe to clubs a plenty this year.
Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo were heavily relied upon in 2017 when their co-captains went down and fortunately for fans, they delivered… and then some. In 2018, it will be much of a muchness with Paul Green heavily relying on two of the stars of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign to take pressure off of Scott and the man they call ‘JT’.
Jordan McLean, who as a matter of fact belonged to the team whom beat the Cowboys in last seasons Grand Final, will also be required to pick up the burden if the club are wanting to go all the way in 2018. McLean joins the club from the Melbourne Storm and at just 26-years of age, already boosts two grand final appearances, a premiership ring and a World Cup trophy to his name. After being heavily targeted by the Cowboys since the departure of James Tamou, coach Paul Green sees him as the perfect replacement, albeit 18 months later.
The Cowboys first month of football will be their toughest. First they face the 2016 premiers Cronulla at home before travelling south to Brisbane to take on the Broncos, who have remained one of the competition heavyweights since joining the NRL for their first season in 1988. After the Queensland derby, it’s further South for the club with the 2017 Grand Final rematch on the cards against the Melbourne Storm before heading back home for a clash with Penrith.
After this though, North Queensland are faced with having the luxury of playing 14 of their next 19 matches against clubs who failed to make the top eight last season and with Thurston retiring from rep football, North Queensland are well equipped to survive this Origin period, something the club has struggled with in the past.
Top Tryscorer – Kyle Feldt
Top Pointscorer – Johnathan Thurston
Club Player of the Year – Michael Morgan
1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Jordan McLean, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumaolo; 14 Te Maire Martin, 15 Coen Hess, 16 Scott Bolton, 17 John Asiata.
WHERE WILL NORTH QUEENSLAND FINISH?
The Sydney Roosters appear to be the biggest threat for the Cowboys in their attempt to bring home their second premiership in season 2018. With the return of Thurston and Scott, the signing of McLean and the ever reliable Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo waiting in the wings to take the club forward post the JT and Scott era, the club are all but penciled in for a top-two finish this year.
Predicted Finish: 2nd