As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the North Queensland Cowboys will go in 2019.
A familiar face will be missing from the North Queensland Cowboys this year, which gives others the opportunity to step up and lead the side in 2019.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Kurt Baptiste (Sydney Roosters-2019), Ben Barba (St Helens RLFC-2019), Nene McDonald (St George Illawarra-2021), Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos-2021), Tom Opacic (Brisbane Broncos-2020)
Lachlan Coote (St Helens RLFC), Shaun Fensom (Brisbane Broncos), Kane Linnett (Hull Kingston Rovers), Johnathan Thurston (retired), Antonio Winterstein (retired)
Dragons (home), Broncos (away), Sharks (home), Raiders (home), Storm (home)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Despite an extremely disappointing 2018 – and the loss of their inspirational leader Thurston – there is optimism that the Cowboys can return to premiership contention in 2019. The Cowboys have recruited well and have strengthened their backline, which was a significant area of concern during 2018. Michael Morgan will take on the famous No 7 and will look to bounce back from an injury-riddled season. He has already shown that he can handle the pressure of leading the side (as shown by leading the side to the 2017 grand final). He is a player who will have a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders but has proven to be someone who relishes the pressure and will not be fazed by the task at hand.
Despite the task of filling JT’s boots being an immense one, Morgan will have some supreme talent joining him at the Cowboys. Jake Granville recently signed a new contract and will contribute slick service and dynamic running game from dummy-half. Granville will have extra responsibility in attack which will only enhance his impact on the game. Te Maire Martin will likely partner Morgan in the halves and has shown glimpses of brilliance throughout his time at the Cowboys. The team has signed Ben Barba in a high risk/high reward move that could pay dividends if he recaptures his Man of Steel-winning performance in the English Super League. Barba plays on instinct and can create something out of nothing, which the Cowboys desperately need (EDITOR’S UPDATE: Barba was sacked by the Cowboys on Friday February 1st after an incident at a Townsville casino led to a “significant breach” of his contract).
While the Cowboys will have significant improvement in their backline in 2019, it is their already impressive forward pack that has been expanded. Josh McGuire joins the team from rivals the Broncos and will be looking to repay the club for offering him a longer contract. Despite not being popular with many opposing teams’ fans, McGuire is someone who is not afraid to do the dirty work and could become an inspirational leader. He has become a proven performer in the club and representative arena and will be an added boost for the club.
The Cowboys’ premiership chances will hinge on their performance across the opening rounds of the competition. They will play all five of their first matches in Queensland with only one being away from home (against the Broncos in Brisbane). Winning at home will be vitally important if they wish to challenge for the premiership this season. In 2019, the North Queensland Cowboys are a genuine premiership threat. Just don’t tell them that!
Top Tryscorer – Kyle Feldt
Top Pointscorer – Kyle Feldt
Club Player of the Year – Josh McGuire
WHERE WILL NORTH QUEENSLAND FINISH?