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Likely squad: Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Josh Hannay, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Firman, Carl Webb, Aaron Payne, Shane Tronc, Steve Southern, Luke O?Donnell, Travis Norton
Interchange: Rod Jenson, Mitchell Sargeant, Justin Smith, David Faiumu
North Queensland?s line up remains pretty much unchanged for the 2006 season which means that the combinations that are currently in place will only improve as the players understanding of each other?s games improve. This will mean the Cowboys will be a better team in 2006.
The Cowboys first ever Grand Final appearance will be a great boost for their club, their community and the players coming into the 2006 season. They now have the confidence and the belief that they can match it with any team at the highest level and put to bed critics who stated their finals run in 2004 was a fluke.
Johnathan Thurston?s Dally M medal and an entire off-season for Brett Firman will only help the Cowboy?s halves combination become even stronger. Thurston?s ability to scoot through holes has made him one of the premier halves in the competition and hopefully he will continue his brilliant run of form in 2006.
The Cowboys? forward pack is still as strong and aggressive as last season with the ability to dominate packs and move forward. The backline is also electrifying as well, with stable and sure centres and a brilliant back 3.
Losing Paul Rauhihi will definitely hurt the Cowboys. While he wasn?t a tremendous impact player last year, he was an influential figure to have in the team and did get away a lot of offloads. His presence on the field will be sorely missed by the entire team.
The lack of size on the bench should be a concern for Graham Murray. Aside from Mitchell Sargeant, the Cowboys don?t have another big man on the bench with Justin Smith, David Faiumu and Rod Jenson not big enough to play prop, meaning one of Southern or O?Donnell will need to fill in at prop to give the two starters a rest. It will be a problem for Murray to organise this.
Graham Murray being in charge of the NSW side will be a disruption for the Cowboys outfit. The travel associated and the lack of mentorship during the Origin period will put a dent in the Cowboys run in the middle of the season. Hopefully the caretaker coach can make sure the Cowboys don?t fall off the rails.
One to Watch:
Emerging Cowboys Prop Matthew Scott has been chosen as the Cowboys young gun for the 2006 season. A player who is held in high regard by Graham Murray at the Cowboys, he will be looking to become a regular feature in the Cowboys squad for 2006 with the departure of stalwart Paul Rauhihi to England.
The 185cm, 104kg Scott made three appearances for the Cowboys in 2005 improving with each game he played. The Cowboys prop was vital in winning the North Queensland Young Guns the Qld Cup premiership last season and will be looking to impress Graham Murray in the trials in 2006 to make sure he will feature in the 2006 premiership push for the Cowboys.
Gains and Losses:
Gains: Ray Cashmere, Brett Anderson, Robert Tanielu, Leigh Coghill, Russell Aitken, Jamie Frizzo, Scott Smith, Mark Henry.
Losses: Paul Rauhihi, David Myles, Leigh McWilliams, Jaiman Lowe, Michael Luck.
The Cowboys will finish from 5th to 8th this season as I believe they will do what the Broncos usually do - start strong, and then during Origin time will fall away suddenly and then come home with a wet sail.
The lack of actual size on the bench will also mean they may not push for the premiership like they did last season. They will need to have another big man on the bench to ensure they push for the Grand Final.