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North Queensland Cowboys - 2013 Preview
Unprecedented depth and the rise of not only individual players - the likes of Kane Linnett and Jason Taumalolo to name just two - but the team unit as a whole sees the Cowboys assembling one of their best ever squads for this year. With few losses over the off-season and the re-signing of a number of big names, such as forward leaders James Tamou and Matt Scott, the squad looks well placed to improve on their qualifying finals exit in 2012.
Why they'll win it
For the first time since 2004, the reason the Cowboys will win the title won't be because of their go-to man, Johnathan Thurston. Instead, it'll be down to the man partnering him in the halves. With contenders lining up to show their worth in the esteemed number 7 jersey, it seems halves depth - long a thorn in the side of Cowboys management, has turned itself into a welcome selection headache. Early favourite Robert Lui appears set to justify the NRL lifeline the Cowboys threw him after 2011, whilst hot on his heels is the incumbent Michael Morgan, who showed his potential and flashes of brilliance over the latter half of last year. Ray Thompson has shown he can be a valuable contributor in the halves, while his likely rival for the bench utility position, Anthony Mitchell, produced a fine display playing out of position in one of limited opportunities last year. Fellow hooker Scott Moore, as well as the evergreen Matty Bowen also present playmaking options, forming a formidable spine.
Why they won't
Player to watch - Jason Taumololo
Whilst the obvious choice is whoever gets the nod to partner Thurston in the halves, 2013 looks to be the year of a different JT - Jason Taumalolo. Still eligible for the U20s competition, Taumalolo spent the majority of last year in first grade and now has 21 matches to his credit. Used mainly as an impact front-rower last year where his powerful hitups ensured the intensity was sustained, 'JT3' showed glimpses of his true brilliance when allowed to run wider, at times skittling defenders with consummate ease. Whilst some defensive issues remain, early signs indicate that he will be taking on an even bigger role in 2013.
Rookies to watch - Curtis Rona, Blake Leary and Chris Grevsmuhl
Gains: Clint Greenshields (fullback; Catalan Dragons), Rory Kostjasyn (backrow/utility; Melbourne Storm), Anthony Mitchell (hooker; Sydney Roosters midseason), Scott Moore (hooker; Huddersfield Giants), Curtis Rona (centre; Sydney Roosters)
Losses: Dane Hogan (backrow; Easts Tigers), Moses Pangai (outside back; Penrith Panthers), Cory Paterson (backrow; Hull KR), Aaron Payne (hooker; retirement), James Segeyaro (hooker; Penrith Panthers)
Interchange: 14. Anthony Mitchell 15. Jason Taumalolo 16. Ashton Sims 17. Glenn Hall