The Cowboys will ride high in 2018

Judge Holden Roar Guru

By Judge Holden, Judge Holden is a Roar Guru

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    The 2017 season may end up as a testament to what could have been for North Queensland.

    After two dramatic golden point victories to start the year, injuries have since cruelled the team’s chances of playing deep into September. If the Cowboys’ injury run was more akin to their 2015 or 2016 campaigns, it is very likely they would be pushing for a top-two finish given the erratic form of every team bar Melbourne.

    The Cowboys have performed admirably given their torrid luck, and they have had chances to beat most of the top sides this season: they led the Sharks 14-0 in Round 11 before being run in the second half to lose 18-14, they led the Roosters 16-4 in Round 21 but went down 22-16, they led the Panthers 16-6 last weekend but capitulated to lose 24-16 and they drew level with Melbourne Storm 22-22 in Round 15 but went down to a Brodie Croft drop goal in golden point.

    Injured trio Johnathan Thurston, Ben Hannant and Matthew Scott would have provided the leadership, tactical management and up-front firepower to ensure these teams would not have been able to mount such second-half resurgences but, alas, they are on the sidelines along with their combined 777 games of first-grade experience.

    There is a deficiency of match experience in the forward pack. Scott Bolton boasts the most games of any forward to run out against the Sharks this Saturday with 199 matches. The next best is 24-year-old Jason Taumalolo with 132. Third is Ethan Lowe with 86. The next highest is John Asiata with 71. Then it’s Coen Hess with 29 games.

    Paul Green has attempted to remedy this issue by playing Granville for 80 minutes along with four interchange forwards. The effectiveness of this plan remains to be seen given additional injuries disrupted the game plan in Rounds 22 and 23.

    (Image: AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    However, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. The injuries have given opportunities to fringe first-grade players to make their mark on the team.

    In recent weeks young bucks Patrick Mago and Corey Jensen have been particularly impressive. Jensen cracked the 100-metre barrier for the first time in his NRL career last weekend and appears to be improving every week. Mago bent the line in his debut against the Panthers and impressed the coach enough to earn another appearance against the Sharks.

    Additionally, the season-ending injury to Johnathan Thurston has forced Michael Morgan to step up into the role of being the team’s chief organiser. The half-back is in great form, boasting 13 try assists (ranked sixth in the league), nine linebreaks, 69 tackle busts (equal with Billy Slater) and eight tries (second most by a halfback).

    But what differentiates 2017 Morgan from 2015 Morgan is that he now knows how to control a game. His tactical kicking, which was the weakest component of his game, has developed immensely since midseason.

    Jake Granville is also in career-best form. While the wily rake does not make as many clean linebreaks as he did in his breakout season, his defence, decision-making and service have remained top shelf.

    He also keeps the opposition markers interested, which in turn creates opportunities out wide for Morgan – or if the markers drop off in concentration, he is not afraid to go for a scoot. He has currently scored four tries and set up nine, the second most assists in the team, just one behind Cameron Smith.

    Lachlan Coote has displayed mixed form this year but appears to be hampered by a niggling calf injury. The fullback has still been dependable, and his talk in defence has been a major factor in the Cowboys improved defence since Round 9.

    Kyle Feldt has been strong despite being given limited attacking opportunities by his centre partner Justin O’Neil, who has struggled for consistency this year. Scott Bolton, despite some questionable moments in defence, has produced career-best performances in terms of run metres. Jason

    (Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Taumalolo has been sensational, averaging a staggering 205 metres, with a season-best performance of 300 run meters against the Storm in Round 15. Ethan Lowe’s defence has improved in recent times, and he is returning to best form since a nasty neck injury. Shaun Fensom has also proved to be a shrewd addition, providing solid defence and leadership for an inexperienced forward pack.

    Kane Linnett has been sensational despite not getting the accolades of the fancier centres of the competition, and he has done plenty of the hard yards for the team. He has also cut down on his error rate, making only seven this season, down from 14 in 2016 and 20 in 2015.

    With the return of co-captains Scott and Thurston next season along with the arrival of Melbourne enforcer Jordan McClean, the Cowboys will boast the firepower in the forward pack as well as the experience and control in the halves to be one of the heavyweights of next year’s premiership.

    There have been rumours of Bulldog Brenko Lee wanting to join the side. If true, he could certainly add a new dimension to the team’s attack. One would imagine the squad to run out for Round 1 next season would look like this:

    1. Lachlan Coote
    2. Kyle Feldt
    3. Justin O’Neil
    4. Kane Linnett
    5. Antonio Winterstein
    6. Michael Morgan
    7. Johnathan Thurston
    8. Matthew Scott
    9. Jake Granville
    10. Jordan McClean
    11. Gavin Cooper
    12. Ethan Lowe
    13. Jason Taumalolo
    1. John Asiata/Josh Chudleigh
    2. Scott Bolton
    3. Shaun Fensom
    4. Coen Hess

    Look out, because the Cowboys will be demolishing all before them in 2018.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • August 17th 2017 @ 7:51am
      The Koomz said | August 17th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      They are my favourites for the title next. I think Scott in particularly needed the year off. Thurstan to bow out with a premiership, definitely deserves a glorious send off.

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 10:26am
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        Imagine how damaging they will be next year Koomz, with both of those guys being fresh after a year off. Also having Thurston during the Origin period should help them considerably. They will be hungry for another title.

    • Roar Guru

      August 17th 2017 @ 9:13am
      Magnus M. Østergaard said | August 17th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      2018 is the year for the Cowboys. I am immensely excited for it. I think Scott Bolton deserves first go at starting but McLean will ease into the starting role. Word is Gubb has also signed so we have massive competition in the forward pack. I personally can’t wait. The outside backs will also be more hotly contested with Bowen consistently pushing for a starting spot, along with the year of experience gained from Jensen and etc in the QLD Cup. Now all we need to do is stay under the radar

      • August 17th 2017 @ 9:14am
        Matt dustby said | August 17th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        I feel for you, so much disappointment ahead

        • Roar Guru

          August 17th 2017 @ 2:40pm
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | August 17th 2017 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

          Maybe so, but it wont be as much disappointment as your mother shows for you.

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 10:29am
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        Well said Vincent. I would start McClean, who is in the mould of James Tamou, and bring Bolton on as an impact middle forward. I think that’s his best role. Then Green can return to the 2016 interchange rotation which worked very well. Definitely, I read today that the Gubb signing is a done deal, so there will be far more experience and competition in the forward pack next season. The comp is ours for the taking.

    • August 17th 2017 @ 9:14am
      Matt dustby said | August 17th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Scott is finished, they will miss the 8 this year and fall even further next year
      The cowboys brief stint in the sun is over

      • August 17th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Jimmmy said | August 17th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        Best wishes to you too Matt . Have a nice day.

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 9:57am
        Nat said | August 17th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Seems your league knowledge is at the same level as your incisive comments Matt. They lost their 2 best and the games best payers in their respective positions and have had a terminal run since yet they are still in the 8. Name any other team in recent history to do the same?

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 10:32am
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        Hey Matt, that’s a fair opinion. Why do you think the Cowboys will degenerate next year? The only way I can see that happening is if the team suffers an injury crisis even worse than this year, which would be extremely unlucky.

    • August 17th 2017 @ 10:11am
      Beastie said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      That’s a strong line up, but as we know, the starting 17 at the beginning of the year is rarely the starting 17 at the end of the year. What would you think the second starting 17 line-up would be (essentially, the cover for those positions)? I would say if they have great cover for the majority of their starting line-up, then they are in a very good position to push for the top 4 next year.

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 10:37am
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        I think the “second team” might look something like this Beastie.

        1. Lachlan Coote
        2. Kyle Feldt
        3. Brenko Lee (if rumours are true and O’Neil struggles for form in the opening rounds)
        4. Kane Linnett (but if he gets injured/struggles for form, bring in J.Bowen)
        5. Antonio Winterstein (if injured, G. Mosby)
        6. Te Maire Martin (when Morgan plays rep footy)
        7. Johnathan Thurston
        8. Scott Bolton (if Matt Scott plays rep footy)
        9. Jake Granville
        10. Charlie Gubb (I think upon coming here McClean will be selected for the Blues)
        11. Coen Hess (Cooper as an incumbent will play Origin 1 next year)
        12. Ethan Lowe
        13. Jason Taumalolo

        14. Josh Chudleigh/Ben Hampton/John Asiata I think will duke it out for the utility role
        15. Shaun Fensom
        16. Patrick Kaufusi
        17. Corey Jensen

        With Mago, Uele, Hoare and others in the reserves. Even during rep season it will be a formidable team with a lot of depth

        • Roar Guru

          August 17th 2017 @ 11:24am
          Nat said | August 17th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

          I’m not sure what Brenko Lee brings to the team. His first stint at Canberra turned some heads but with the dogs I’ve seen little but poor defensive reads. I appreciate he is part of a larger team problem there. I’m happy to be proven wrong.

          • Roar Guru

            August 17th 2017 @ 11:57am
            Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

            Agreed Nat, his defence has been questionable at points this season, but he also boasts 10 try assists in a Bulldogs outfit where tries have been at a premium. He is a quality attacking centre, defensive issues can be worked on in the pre-season.

        • Roar Guru

          August 17th 2017 @ 2:43pm
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | August 17th 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

          Hey mate word on the street is Pat Kaufusi is gone to Melbourne (he is guaranteed not to be a Cowboys in 2018) and Sharks have snapped up young Braden Uele unfortunately. Hopefully we can afford to keep Mago.

          • Roar Guru

            August 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm
            Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

            Wow that’s unfortunate. Apparently Gubb is on the way up here though. I can see why the Sharks chased Uele, he reminds me a lot of Fafita. Yes hopefully Mago stays on, he was impressive last week. Regardless, there should be plenty of forward depth next season.

        • October 10th 2017 @ 10:32pm
          george said | October 10th 2017 @ 10:32pm | ! Report

          Sorry mate kaufusi gone to the storm unfortunately

    • August 17th 2017 @ 10:41am
      rakshop said | August 17th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      Watching the Cowboys over the past few years, I have been waiting for the inevitable decline as the team starts to age. In fact, I once infamously stated that we couldn’t win the premiership at the start of 2015 because we were ‘too old’ and the Cowboys had missed their window. It turned out that 2016 actually was the year that they were ‘too old’ and it showed at the back end of the season. 2017 was always going to be problem because they didn’t have the depth in squad as they may have had in 2016 and in 2015, and this was exacerbated once the Cowboys lost both Hannant and Scott (and that Thurston guy was kind of a big loss too, but by that stage, I felt the season had already been lost).

      2017 is a blessing in disguise because it has forced some of peripheral players to show they deserve to be in first grade. Players like Corey Jenson mentioned in this article are showing that they are stepping up they game. But not mentioned are the guys like Ben Spina, Javid Bowen and especially John Asiata who have been in and out of the team for a few years, and are finally starting to look like they belong in first grade rather in the reserves. Yes Michael Morgan is playing out of his skin and has really stepped up his game, but its the players like Bolton, Jenson, Spina, Bowen and Asiata (not sure if Asiata is signed for next season) who the Cowboys should be most excited about, because its these next level players are the ones that your win you premierships. The Thurston’s, Tamaoulalu’s, Scott’s of the world win you the big games, it’s the next tier down, the Coopers, Granvilles, Lowes, Cootes, Linnents that will win you a premiership across the entire season. And the Cowboys are starting to show that the ‘next tier down’ list is insanely deep.
      The thing that scares me about the Cowboys is how comparable the start of the 2015 season is looking when compared against the future 2018 season. Remember in 2015 season, Lachlan Coote and John Asiata couldn’t even break the first grade team to start the season and Jake Granville was playing off the bench (with Kostjayson starting as the preferred hooker). Glen Hall, a starting premiership player with Manly only few years prior – played ONE GAME all year which happened to be during the origin period! Not because he was injured, because he coudnt make the first grade team. Fast forward to 2018 – Martin, Hampstead, Fensom, Bowen, Spina, Jenson and Kafusi more than likely wont be in starting 17 next year (assuming that a full strength bench is Asiata – if he signs -, Hess, Chudleigh, Bolton/McClean). Think about that for a second. The Cowboys are going to have so much depth that most of the players that this article and I are lauding, won’t even be in the team at the start of season. That’s the scary part about the Cowboys in 2018. If they stay moderately healthy, their depth will be extraordinary.

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        Hi Rakshop, thanks for the comment. I agree, this season was always going to be a test considering we didn’t quite have the depth of previous years. I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year for us, and predicted a 5th place finish. However barring the injuries, I really think the team could have given the top four a shake this year. Yes those other guys, Asiata (his ball playing has been sublime, and is getting more work done in attack and defence) as well as Spina was playing really well prior to his injury. I like Spina a lot, he is a meat and potatoes prop but plays tough, and good things seem to happen when he is in the time. Next year our depth will be insane, and I will be really expecting us to finish in the top 2. Minor premiers perhaps?

        • August 17th 2017 @ 1:22pm
          rakshop said | August 17th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

          If the NRL had a ‘most improved’ player award Asiata surely would have to come close to winning it this year. Considering that he hasn’t had the structure of playing in the same position week to week, and at the fact that for the last few weeks he has been playing with a dodgy knee, he has been outstanding, no matter what role he had to play. Front row, second row, lock, halves, centre.

          It will be interesting to see how Paul Green uses him going forward, because I have tended to think he plays better up the middle using his footwork and offloading ability at the line, rather than as a ‘forward’ ball handler or playing a little wider. The try he set up last week for JT was a really good example of why he works better up in the line – ala like a Wade Graham, only more central. When Greenie has used him in the past, its been much more wider and its noticeable that he doesn’t seem to get the ball in a position that he can create because defence is moving more sideways on his inside shoulder. He works much better when the defence is front-on allowing to use his size and footwork a little more.

          Just on Wade Graham —- I wouldn’t be surprised if Asiata continues his 2017 form into 2018 that he might be a bolter for NSW selection to replace Wade Graham next year.

    • August 17th 2017 @ 11:29am
      Jimmmy said | August 17th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      I am also looking forward to next year Judge. What a way to send off JT a title would be. I think Matty Scott will have a boomer of a year . The time off will have done him the world of good.
      Asiata has been a revelation as a ball playing forward and Lolo is developing a bit of passing in his game as well.
      Add to that the natural improvement of Hess and it is an exciting time for Cows fans.
      I still think we can win a finals game this year but my hope of us making a prelim is quickly vanishing . Wherever we end up , you could not be more proud of the way these guys play for each other. I am so glad they are my team

      • Roar Guru

        August 17th 2017 @ 1:11pm
        Judge Holden said | August 17th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        Absolutely mate. You can see that every player has improved this year, barring O’Neil and perhaps Coote. The commitment and effort is there though, which bodes well for next season. Despite a couple of losses, the team is in good form. I hope the team manages to make the 8, win a final and carry some momentum into next season. It will be the year of the Cow(boy).

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