North Queensland celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2020, but it was a party to forget.
2020 Club Record
Competition Points: 10
2020 Player Achievements
Most Tries: Kyle Feldt (19)
Most Points: Feldt (122)
North Queensland began their 25th anniversary season (complete with snazzy heritage home and away strips) with some optimism: they had a shiny new home at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, and had recruited Valentine Holmes from the NFL. Unfortunately, their milestone season was disappointing, finishing 14th with just five wins (three of them at QCB Stadium).
While captain Michael Morgan (six games) and Holmes (12 games) had frustrating, injury-interrupted seasons, Kyle Feldt was the Cowboys’ leading pointscorer and tryscorer (briefly leading the Ken Irvine Medal in round 20 before Souths’ Alex Johnston overtook him) and Jason Taumalolo was as consistent as ever.
The Cowboys opened their season (and their new stadium) with the XXXX Derby: Brisbane spoiled the party, winning 28-21.
North Queensland comfortably beat Canterbury-Bankstown and the Gold Coast, though the back-to-back wins were separated by two months due to COVID-19.
From there, the Cowboys won just three more games, plunging to the bottom four and staying there.
The lowpoints were between rounds six and nine: in round six, they trailed the erratic Wests Tigers 34-0 at halftime, but saved some face to lose 36-20, with two tries to Feldt. They suffered heavy losses to Parramatta (42-4) in round eight and the Sydney Roosters (42-16) in round nine. They started well against the Roosters, leading 6-0 after 23 minutes. Then the Roosters raced the clock, scoring 42 straight points in 33 minutes.
In between the Tigers and Eels losses, they Cowboys had a shock 32-20 win over Newcastle, leading 26-0 at halftime.
Coach Paul Green was replaced by interim coach Josh Hannay in July, with the Warriors’ Todd Payten (who replaced Stephen Kearney) taking over the Cowboys from 2021.
After the Roosters game, the Cowboys began to show more grit, with fighting losses to Penrith, Manly Warringah, Canberra, and Newcastle.
Their round 14 loss to Souths was mind-boggling: they scored six tries to five, and led 30-24 with six minutes left, then Johnston scored a minute later. Adam Reynolds missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty goal two minutes later to tie the game, then kicked the game-winning field goal with a minute left.
At least they finished with some respectability, beating St George Illawarra 23-22 (round 17) and Brisbane 32-16 (round 20).
Holmes had arguably his best game of the season against the Dragons, scoring 11 points, including the game-winning Golden Point field goal. It was a tease of what he can do when he’s fit and firing.
With Brisbane entering the second XXXX Derby in last place, every non-Broncos fan was cheering for the Cowboys. It was an entertaining game, with the scores tied 16-16 with 25 minutes left before Feldt’s two tries, and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s exhilarating 90-metre try: Holmes broke from his 10 metre line, ran 30 metres, then swung the ball out to Tabuai-Fidow, who went the rest of the way. Playing his final game for the Cowboys, Gavin Cooper kicked the conversion. It was a nice way to finish a disappointing season.
Just two Cowboys made the Queensland Origin squad (Coen Hess, Holmes): a far cry from the their glory days in the mid-2010s.
While it’s hard to see the Cowboys challenging for the eight next year, if Morgan and Holmes stay healthy, they could leave the bottom four and finish mid-table. With contract talks currently under negotiation, they may even have Benji Marshall.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
The big Tongan won his fifth straight Paul Bowman Medal, proving (if there was any doubt left) how vital he is to the Cowboys.
He had another blockbuster year in 2020, playing 16 out of 20 games, making 1407.4 post-contact metres, averaging 16.7 hit-ups, making 507 tackles with a 91.9% tackling efficiency, and 3,320 running metres (averaging 207/game).
There’s nothing more that needs to be said about the most important Cowboy since the “other JT” (Johnathan Thurston).
If Taumalolo can replicate those numbers in 2021, the Cowboys should climb out of the bottom four.
2021 GAINS AND LOSSES
Michael Bell (2021), Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors, 2022), Helium Luki (2021), Ieremia Nanai (2021), Griffin Neame (2021).
John Asiata (released), Gavin Cooper (retired), Tom Opacic (Parramatta Eels), Dan Russell (released), Garrett Smith (released).