North Queensland Cowboys 2021 Season Preview
TK's take on the North Queensland Cowboys:
New coach Todd Payten - Probably the shake up the Cowboys needed after 7 seasons with Paul Green. Payten showed his potential last year with his ability to get results for the Warriors despite the adversity the team faced off the field. Cowboys fans will need to be patient given the salary cap and existing contract, he inherits Green's roster so it might take some time to get the team that suits his playing style.
The Big 3 - The likes of Jason Taumalolo, Val Holmes and Michael Morgan are still three of the best players in the game. The inability of getting the big 3 on the field at the same time really hurt the club. A full pre-season will aid Holmes in his transition back into the NRL but I feel the team's fortunes rest on the shoulders of these three.
Hooker depth - One of the strengths of the team is in the role. Reece Robson had a great start to the season before injury while Rueben Cotter showed he was very capable at this level. Veteran Jake Granville is also in the mix probably more for a bench role at this stage of his career but the team is well served in this area.
Young players coming through - The Cowboys have some great talent coming through led by the Hammer, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow who was an excitement machine at times during the season. Daejarn Asi, Connelly Lemuelu and Murray Taulagi are also pressing for starting roles come round one. The forwards are a little more unknown, I do like the look of Shane Wright and Mitchell Dunn who both had some good performances last year while Emry Pere could see more game time during the season with a big preseason.
WEAKNESSES Balance of the roster - The roster management at the Cowboys is a major weakness which reflects with their lack of balance across the roster. The makeup of their salary cap see's the big 3 mentioned plus the likes of Jordan Mclean, Josh McGuire and Coen Hess making up a significant chunk of the salary cap. Centre - After being a big money move from the Tigers, Esan Marsters was a shell of the player he was in the past. The defensive errors on both sides of the field was clearly evident and will continue to be a question mark for the team. Justin O'Neill is likely to start in the role, while a capable player is probably a better winger. 22 year old Connelly Lemuelu showed some promise during 2020 but will need to step up a gear for the club to do well in this area. Daejarn Asi could also be an option but has spent most of his young first grade career at five-eighth. Josh McGuires discipline - Too many silly penalties, sin bins and judiciary visits. McGuire is on big money and when on the field really plugs the middle. Missing games and not exactly the best role model for the young players, while everyone loves his competitiveness, it hurts the team when he doesn't play. OPPORTUNITIES Getting the best out of their players - While Todd Payten inherits a roster he does have an opportunity to leave his mark on the team immediately. Inconsistent performers such as Jordan McLean, Coen Hess and Esan Marsters might work better under the new coaching environment. VERDICT - One of the hardest teams to predict. Given how injury prone their top players have been in recent seasons its hard to have much confidence in all of them being on the field together for an extended period of time. At full strength the Cowboys can easily contend for 6th to 8th position but I just don't like their depth and quality across the roster. New coach Todd Payten may approach this as a rebuild year and give all his young players a start with a look towards 2022. Given my lack of confidence on getting the big names firing and on the park I can see a 12th to 16th finish but give Payten some time to work his influence on the team.
How do you see the Cowboys going in 2021?