As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the North Queensland Cowboys will go in 2020.
After starting the 2019 season as one of the more fancied teams, the Cowboys finished well outside the top eight (fourteenth) in their first season without Johnathan Thurston. The arrival of Valentine Holmes, in addition to an excellent squad, should see a massive improvement in ladder position in 2020.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Valentine Holmes (NFL), Connelly Lemuelu (Bulldogs), Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), Reece Robson (Dragons).
It’s hard to go past Valentine Holmes as the Cowboys’ big signing, and the NRL in general, this season. He arrives from his NFL dream with the New York Jets with a little less fanfare than previous NFL evictee Jarryd Hayne, but he certainly looks keen and hungry for a return to the NRL. They could certainly do with his try scoring prowess, as the Cowboys scored the third fewest point in 2019. He will assume the number one jersey, which will cause a ripple further down the squad, but he adds so much.
A shout out also for the shrewd signing of Esan Marsters from the Wests Tigers, an underrated player for an underrated side with added depth in attack also.
Kurt Baptiste (released), Logan Bayliss-Brow (released), Scott Bolton (retired), Jordan Kahu (Broncos), Te Maire Martin (retired), Matthew Scott (Retired), Enri Tuala (Knights), Kurt Wiltshire (released).
A few sad departures in the off season, with both Matt Scott and Te Maire Martin both retiring from rugby league for medical reasons. While neither had the greatest impact on the 2019 season, their losses are still noteworthy. On the field Jordan Kahu will be a loss for the Cowboys as he heads back to the Broncos, but he should be covered by the signing of Marsters.
TOP 30 SQUAD: John Asiata, Jake Clifford, Gavin Cooper, Reuben Cotter, Scott Drinkwater, Mitchell Dunn, Kyle Feldt, Tom Gilbert, Jake Granville, Ben Hampton, Coen Hess, Peter Hola, Valentine Holmes, Corey Jensen, Connelly Lemeulu, Esan Marsters, Josh McGuire, Jordan McLean, Francis Molo, Michael Morgan, Justin O’Neill, Tom Opacic, Emry Pere, Reece Robson, Daniel Russell, Tukimihia Simpkins, Murray Taulagi, Jason Taumalolo, Shane Wright.
SPOTS AVAILABLE: 1
DEVELOPMENT SQUAD: Ben Condon, Wiremu Greig, Garrett Smith, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Broncos (H), Bulldogs (A), Eels (H), Knights (A), Broncos (A).
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Cowboys (celebrating their 25th anniversary season) get to open their season in their shiny new Queensland Country Bank Stadium against the Broncos, who they strangely enough play again just four rounds later in Brisbane. The Bulldogs and Eels ended 2019 well, so neither of those are easy fixtures. Newcastle looks like relief, but they have lost three of their last four visits there, including last season.
It’s hard to choose a key player between Jason Taumalolo or Michael Morgan if we had to choose one, so we won’t, we’ll choose them both. Morgan was a little off his best form in 2019, and he may not have been helped by a concussion and spending time at fullback, but playing in the halves full time for 2020 will hopefully lift his team. Taumalolo ended 2019 well, leading Tonga to a historic victory over the Kangaroos, and will no doubt lead the Cowboys from the front again in 2020.
One point of interest for the Cowboys is the potential lack of stability in the all-important spine. Morgan will play in the halves in 2020, after spending some time at fullback, but his halves partner remains a bit of a mystery with a pre-season shootout between Jake Clifford and Scott Drinkwater for the role. Both are fantastically talented players, and both deserve the spot, but sadly one will be playing in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup in round one. I would start with Drinkwater at the Cowboys.
The other battle is in the hooker position between the incumbent Jake Granville and recent Dragons recruit Reece Robson. The safe option would be starting the season with Granville at nine and Robson at number 14, but for how long? So, with the spine all-important, the Cowboys have a big decision to make early.
Hopefully it’s a rep footy breakthrough for Kyle Feldt on the back of a stellar start to the 2020 season, and a return to the best of barnstorming ways of Coen Hess.
The Cowboys unsurprisingly must do a lot of travelling this season; in fact they are faced with the second most amount of travelling in 2020, nearly 6,000 km more than the next worst in Melbourne. Worst still, they must do the most travelling in the last six rounds – a mere 6,700 km. They only have one five-day turnaround. Free-to-air fans will see the Cowboys 10 times in 2020, mostly on Thursday and Friday nights. Along with the Broncos, the Cowboys have the lowest volume of day games with just three. There is just one Sunday fixture for the Cowboys in 2020, with Saturday night being their main day of play (45%).
Top Tryscorer – Kyle Feldt.
Top Pointscorer – Kyle Feldt.
Club Player of the Year – Jason Taumalolo or Francis Molo.
WHERE WILL THE NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS FINISH?
It is fair to say that the Cowboys underachieved in 2019, and with the signing of Valentine Holmes, in addition to a revitalised Michael Morgan and superstar Jason Taumalolo, making the top eight is a minimum expectation. If not, the premiership won in 2015 won’t save Paul Green by season’s end. At least the Cowboys will look good in their 1995 heritage jerseys.