2021 North Queensland Cowboys Team Preview

As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the North Queensland Cowboys will go in 2021.

Season 2020 was a year to forgot for the Cowboys, dealing with multiple injuries and players underperforming when it mattered the most. They finished in 14th place and will be hoping for a much more successful season in 2021.

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Michael Bell (2021), Kane Bradley (Wests Tigers, 2022), Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors, 2022), Heilum Luki (2021), Ieremia Nanai (2021), Griffin Neame (2021).


John Asiata (Brisbane Broncos), Gavin Cooper (retired), Tom Opacic (Parramatta Eels), Dan Russell (released), Tukimihia Simpkins (Wests Tigers), Garrett Smith (Newcastle Knights).

First Five

Panthers (A), Dragons (H), Titans (H), Sharks (A), Tigers (A).


After a poor season last year, the Cowboys are hoping to re-capture their best again this season and make a run to the finals. The amount of injuries to their highest-paid players and spine was a major factor in why they finished in the bottom four. The hiring of Todd Payten was an interesting play from the Cowboys’ front office, considering he only coached the New Zealand Warriors for 14 games. Perhaps his ability to turn them around in a short period of time – in incredibly difficult circumstances – played a role in why they wanted him to lead the Cowboys. For them to make a run, first they need all their key players healthy and fit once again: and it starts with Michael Morgan.

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Morgan had a terrible year last year with injuries, which limited him to only six games. He is the chief playmaker and will need to step up massively this year. No one expects him to play like Jonathan Thurston did, but when you are getting paid $1 million a season you expect him to at least lead by example and be able to handle the pressure. In 2017, when the Cowboys defeated the Sharks, Eels and Roosters to play in the 2017 grand final, Morgan was the clear best player on the field each game and proved he could dominate.

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Of course, Jason Taumalolo is one to always make an impact within the team and will be crucial to their season. He had an average season last year, to be honest, but still averaged 193 run metres per game – which is brilliant. If he can continue to dominate through the middle of the field, along with the other middle forwards, it will go a long way to helping the Cowboys succeed in 2021. And Valentine Holmes must find his 2016 form as well.

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The Cowboys haven’t signed many new faces. Right now, only Lachlan Burr from the Warriors, Kane Bradley from the Tigers, and the returning Javid Bowen (having played one game for the Northern Pride). Burr provides good coverage in the middle and will more than likely come off the bench. The Cowboys should have targeted more edge players and looked for more strike in the centres: two areas they need to address quickly unless Coen Hess, Esan Marsters, and Justin O’Neill begin to find some form again.

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Looking at the Cowboys’ draw, they have a tough round one match against last year’s runner up – the Penrith Panthers. They only face the top eight teams from last year 11 times; without question their toughest run is from round 15 to round 19. In that space they face the Sharks, Knights, Rabbitohs, Roosters, and Storm. They do have back-to-back home games four times this year, which is always nice, and play a total of 16 games in QLD this year.


Top Tryscorer – Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

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Top Pointscorer – Valentine Holmes.

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Club Player of the Year – Jason Taumalolo.

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