North Queensland Cowboys - 12th Place
Reasons: Teething Troubles: The appointments of coach Neil Henry and conditioner Billy Johnstone didn't come without it's problems. For the first five rounds of the competition the Cowboys experimented with a new style of play that saw captain Johnathan Thurston restricted to the left hand side of the field in the hope that the side would be encouraged to play a more team-oriented game as opposed to simply relying on Thurston magic. After recording only one win from five matches the game plan reverted and the Cowboys went onto record an impressive seven wins from nine matches against such sides as Minor Premiers St. George Illawarra and defending premiers Manly. Crippled Cowboys: As the season wore on so did the Cowboys injury toll, claiming the likes of Matt Bowen, Aaron Payne and Cowboys Player of the Year Luke O'Donnell for pivotal parts of the season. This had a profound effect on their finals campaign as the Cowboys lost a number of games they could of otherwise won with the addition of Bowen and Payne who support skipper Johnathan Thurston who was struggling with the pressures of carrying a side among other ordeals that come as one of the best players in the world. From Boys To Men: The rise of certain individuals in the Cowboys forward pack was astonishing and holds the hopes of fans in good stead for years to come. In particular were the meteoric rise of prop Mat Scott, second-row Scott Bolton and debutantes Steve Rapira and James Tamou. Along with the ever reliable Luke O'Donnell the Cowboys pack became an establishment of fear as they punished sides with their vicious defence and toiled through defensive lines as relentlessly as any Cowboys pack in their relatively short history. The improvement of players wasn't only restricted to the forwards as centre Willie Tonga enjoyed his best season since 2004.
Gains: Michael Bani (Wing) Manly Sea Eagles (Mid-Season) Shannon Gallant (Fullback) West Tigers Isaak Ah Mau (Front-Row) Brisbane Broncos Leeson Ah Mau (Front Row) Warrior Will Tupou (Centre) Brisbane Broncos Losses: Jared Kahu (Five-Eighth) Released (Mid-Season) Ben Farrar (Centre) Manly Sea Eagles (Mid-Season) Shane Tronc (Prop) Wakefield Wildcats Tom Humble (Five Eigth) Parramatta Eels Dayne Weston (Second Row) Released Shannon Hegarty (Wing) Released Matthew Bartlett (Second Row) Released Anthony Perkins (Wing) Released
Best Win of the Year: Played in-front of an enthusiastic Gold Coast crowd the Cowboys travelled south on the back of two disappointing losses to do battle with the Titans who treated Skilled Park as their personal fortress and didn't take kindly to intruders. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Cowboys were prepared for anything the Gold Coast threw at them and after repelling the Titans with majestic goal line defence and punishing big hits they dazzled them with the feats of their star duo Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen who saved his best performance for the Friday night clash scoring a double and saving the Cowboys from a number of Titans raids. As the final whistle sounded the score read 34-18 and Cowboys became the first side in 2009 to record a win at Skilled Park. Worst Loss of the Year: With their season at stake the Cowboys went face to face with Newcastle in a sudden death clash at Energy Australia Stadium in Newcastle to determine who would take the vacant spot in the top eight. After forty minutes all signs pointed towards a Cowboys victory as the North Queenslanders produced an impressive performance to lead 22-4. However as the second half got underway the Cowboys luck began to run out as Matt Bowen had to retire to the bench following a knee injury that would require Bowen to undergo a season ending operation. The Cowboys never recovered from the setback and surrendered their lead in disappointing fashion going down to a scoreline of 32-26.
Statistics The Cowboys won 11 matches and lost 13 through the season, finishing the season with a massive points differential of +84. This is made amazing by the fact they finished in 12th position. Johnathan Thurston recorded 25 try assists the most of any halfback in the competition. Matt Bowen and Willie Tonga both crossed the stripe 12 times. Thurston scored 11 tries on his way to a points tally of 202 for the season, fourth in the NRL behind Hazem El Masri, Jamie Soward and Luke Burt. Thurston was also the most penalised player in the NRL in 2009, conceding 23 penalties - a telling statistic from their captain about the poor discipline of the side.
2010 Headline Where to Thurston?
Odds to win in 2010 $20.00 (Odds courtesy of Betfair)
Where will they finish next year? With Bowen injured I cannot see the Cowboys improving. 12th.