The 2021 season has not been kind to The North Queensland Cowboys, who have seen their campaign go from bad to promising to dismal in the space of just 23 weeks.
They have a good coach in Todd Payten, who is trying his best to turn the ship around. Payten worked wonders with the New Zealand Warriors, so given time, great things are expected from him in North Queensland.
Currently North Queensland sit in 15th spot on the ladder, four wins above the hapless Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. Looking at the roster, what can the Cowboys do in 2022?
The Cowboys have some great talent in many positions but little developed talent beyond that. At fullback Val Holmes and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow have both shown what they’re capable of. The Hammer, Tabuai-Fidow, should have the edge in that match-up for fullback in 2022.
On the wings proven performer Kyle Feldt and youngster Murray Taulagi nailed down their spots without either being spectacular. Feldt’s performances, good before Origin and average ever since, demonstrated remarkable inconsistency for one of their most experienced players. Taulagi had one great game against the Knights, in which he scored three tries, but overall his season output was down.
A planned shift into the centres from Taulagi should provide the Cowboys with a little more strike power there for 2022. Feldt and Holmes should start on the wings in 2022.
Connelly Lemuelu, Esan Marsters, Justin O’Neill, Javid Bowen, Ben Hampton, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Daejarn Asi, Murray Taulagi and Jake Granville have all spent time in the centres this season with only the Hammer cementing a spot. Lemuelu and Asi have looked the most comfortable there, but despite Lemuelu’s potential as a defender, he must fix up his unforced errors, and Asi is better suited to five-eighth. Taulagi and new recruit Peta Hiku will be the centres in 2022.
Five-eighth and half will be hotly contested in 2022 with the arrival of Chad Townsend, the emergence of Tom Dearden, Scott Drinkwater and the potential for both Asi and Hampton to play in the halves. Drinkwater’s inconsistency could hurt him, while Dearden is seen as their half of the future. However, if Townsend can take on the bulk of the organising duties, he would provide the perfect foil to allow Drinkwater to play his natural, instinctive game. Drinkwater at five-eighth and Townsend at half in 2022.
The forward pack loses quite a bit of punch in 2022 with the losses of Molo (St George Illawarra Dragons) and Corey Jensen (Brisbane Broncos). Coen Hess, Jordan McLean, Mitchell Dunn, Reuben Cotter, Jason Taumalolo and Tom Gilbert should all be fit to start next season. Look for Taumalolo, McLean and Cotter to start with Gilbert and Hess on the interchange.
The back row, average at best this season, needs inspiration. Taumalolo provides that inspiration, but it remains to be seen whether or not he settles into that position or if that position showcases his best strengths. The other edge is anyone’s guess. Mitchell Dunn, Heilum Luki, Shane Wright and Ben Condon are all potential starters on that edge. Dunn and Luki or Condon on the edges in 2022.
Reece Robson has been very solid at hooker all season, and his combination with Jake ‘I’m a fixer’ Granville off the bench has given the Cowboys a lot of go-forward in the back-end of games. Look for Robson and Granville to reproduce the sequel in 2022.
Other players that will likely be in the mix in 2022 include Daejarn Asi, Peter Hola, Javid Bowen, Kane Bradley, Lachlan Burr, Ben Condon and Jeremiah Nanai.
My predicted 2022 team
The Cowboys will struggle to make the eight once again next year and will finish around 12th.