The North Queensland Cowboys had a redeeming season in 2022, finishing +272 in For and Against Points.
The side, coached by 2022 Dally M Coach of the Year , Todd Payten, won 17 of their 24 games which saw them finish third in the regular season ladder, a major improvement from finishing 15th in 2021 and earning a well-deserved place in the Top 4 heading into finals.
The Cowboys played through the finals, defeating Cronulla in the first week of Qualifying and Elimination Finals, and were knocked out of Grand Final contention by Parramatta in the Preliminary Finals, going down 24-20.
How Can They Improve?
Whilst their defensive strength was a revelation in 2022, it still let them down in some key moments, particularly against the Sharks and Eels in the finals.
With another off-season under their belt, should the young players in the side have taken on the experience of their first finals campaign, and revisit the intensive defence and conditioning work under Payten, the Cowboys should be able to patch the gaps in their defence to present a much stronger front and rate highly against some of the competition's best forward packs.
Ins: Jack Gosiewski (Dragons), James Tamou (Wests Tigers), Gehamat Shibasaki (Mackay Cutters).
Outs: Connelly Lemuelu (Dolphins), Tom Gilbert (Dolphins), Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Dolphins), Ben Condon (Sea Eagles).
There is no question that Todd Payten has an unbelievable ability to get the absolute best from his players, but his ability to do so from his young players last season was arguably their biggest strength, and should he be able to do so again this year, the Cowboys will have a massive opportunity to go one step further this year.
The finals experience gained by their young players last season, alongside the long-term experience and expertise of halfback Chad Townsend and recruit James Tamou, will see the club be able to handle themselves even better during the big moments where they previously cracked.
Following the losses of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Gilbert and Connelly Lemuelo to the Dolphins, as well as Kane Bradley, Emry Pere and Morgan McWhirter, the Cowboys have not made any depth signings of note for the 2023 season.
With such a large loss and no real gain for replacements, the Cowboys are potentially left exposed to depth issues should an injury crisis arise.
Yet to make his NRL debut, the Cowboys announced the addition of former Fijian Rugby Sevens star Taniela Sadrugu to their top 30 squads back in August 2022.
Sadrugu, standing at 191cm, played lock for Fiji at the World Cup, and also played 15 games for Townsville Blackhawks in 2022, all but one at the centre, and has been listed by the Cowboys as a second rower, highlighting his versatility.
Despite some big losses, the experience of the young players off the back of last season, alongside such strong leadership from Payten, Townsend, Taumalolo and Tamou, will likely see a strong campaign from North Queensland in 2023.
Ladder Prediction: 7th
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