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A miraculous Grand Final appearance capped off an indifferent season for the Cowboys in 2017 - Justin Davies looks at their plans for 2018. Can they go one better with their stars back?
For large stretches of the season, it seemed like 2017 was a sports movie come to life - the downtrodden Cowboys battle back from losing their co-captains, numerous injuries and finishing in the lower half of the eight to make the Grand Final, sadly losing, against the evil mastermind Melbourne Storm.
So, 2018 has a lot to live up to, but with the return of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, plus maintaining the most of their core should point to another successful, hopefully, without as many trips to the injury ward. Much like the other contenders, if the Cowboys pull together their top game with Thurston, Morgan, Coote firing on all cylinders from a solid platform with their finishers on the edge all clicking for a majority of the season - it should point to another successful jaunt at the title up north.
If success is to continue, it will be built on the broad shoulders of the forward pack. While Thurston, Coote, Morgan all get regular plaudits - the Cowboys boast probably the best forward pack in the competition. Jason Taumalolo, Matt Scott, John Asiata and youngster Coen Hess make for impressive listing not to mention the addition of Jordan McClean from the Storm adds depth. So much like your favourite pair of pants, the Cowboys will slip into a rhythm and probably finish top four, if not, top two if the rugby league gods are kind.
Well, that is simple. Johnathan Thurston is a force of personality, the stalwart halfback entering his 18th season in the NRL, now retired from Origin football, can focus on obtaining his third premiership. At times, Thurston has felt like the man carrying the boulder on his shoulders, carrying the Cowboys side but in the last two seasons - he has enjoyed having Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville not to forget the most destructive forward in the game in Jason Taumalolo.
If all those ingredients come together, and create, the perfect team (maybe with some chemical x) the Cowboys will go close, to challenging the competition again, especially if the Storm are slow out of the blocks without Cooper Cronk.
Success comes in cycles (well unless you're the Storm) after several years playing deep into the season - the Cowboys could start cold, and if the travel schedule doesn't break right, and they can't match their 7-5 record on the road last season - it could be tough for the Cowboys to find their way into the top four and add unnecessary games to already weary bodies.
It would be easy to continue the fawning praise of Johnathan Thurston like above, but while the head-geared maestro is key - there is another hulking presence that needs addressing. Fresh from a huge Rugby League World Cup, Jason Taumalolo will want to take that form right into the new season - if the second rower can munch the metres again, it will create the perfect platform for the Cowboys playmakers to cut open defenses like a Papa Roach song.
Since the departure of Kalyn Ponga to the Knights, it creates an opening for someone to step up. Gideon Gela-Moseby could be that man, the fullback-wing showed in his brief appearances, where he scored three times, that he can be a devastating prospect, especially, if he is getting set up by Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston. Moseby shouldn't be too far behind the incumbent backs, and if form or injury crop up, the talented junior could make a mark.
Gains | Carlin Anderson (Townsville), Jordan McLean (Storm)
Losses | Kalyn Ponga (Knights), Ray Thompson (retired), Patrick Kaufusi (Storm), Braden Uele (Sharks), Patrick Mogo (Broncos)