2 days ago
2015 in review - North Queensland Cowboys
2015 stared with North Queensland celebrating their 20th anniversary of entrance into the competition and finished with Johnathan Thurston hoisted up the premiership trophy in style after his extra time field goal.
The Cowboys were a consistent force throughout the season after a slow start, and finally put the failures of the last few seasons behind them with a livewire attack that was never beaten to capture belief in the upper reaches of Queensland.
After several seasons of falling short in the weeks before the decider, the Cowboys finally made their way back into the big dance after a ten-year absence and made the most of it... albeit in the dying seconds of one of the best Grand Finals of the modern age.
Three straight losses to start the season is like rocking up to the party late, a horror start to their 2015 campaign which included two losses at the usually stout 1300 SMILES Stadium. Thurston and his Cowboys didn't feel sorry for themselves, instead they rattled off 11 straight victories from March to June. The run was highlighted by the dominant 30-12 win over the reigning champions South Sydney.
The winning streak propelled the Cowboys into third position, and despite the Cronulla Sharks snapping their streak, their three month winning run gave the Cowboys their best platform to deliver their first premiership which they did in style.
Don't call it a comeback - because it's just the norm. In their Round 13 clash against Parramatta, the visiting Cowboys were down 30-6 with half an hour to go - within ten minutes a Gavin Cooper hat-trick helped them to a stunning 36-30 win that crowned them the Comeback Kings.
Outside of the opening month of the competition - North Queensland lost four games the remainder of the season, two of those to surprise packets Cronulla Sharks, who on one of those occasions came into 1300SMILES and walked away 24-18 victors. The Cowboys had the final laugh though, with a shutout 39-0 finals victory at the same ground on their way to the decider.
It would be easy to hand this to Johnathan Thurston to add to his already bulging shelf of achievements but this goes to his fullback-turned five-eighth partner Michael Morgan. The boy from Townsville had a breakout season with fifteen tries, a Queensland call-up for all three games and of course - played a big hand in *the* moment of the Grand Final. His flick pass to send Kyle Feldt across for the game-levelling try on the buzzer was etched into memory.
An honourable mention to Jake Granville - the new signing brought a notable rise of energy and purpose into the Cowboys side when he was on the field. This was no more evidenced in the grand final as he sparked their comeback against the Broncos.
The emergence of both Granville and Morgan meant limited opportunities for former starter Ray Thompson who plied his trade in the Queensland Cup all year. The utility only made nine appearances and will find it hard to break back in again unless there is injuries to the starters.
There is a conveyor belt of young forwards coming out of Townsville with several getting their chances under Paul Green this season. Coen Hess, Samuel Hoare and Ben Spina just a few names to get minutes this season and leave the side in good stead going forward, learning off Australian representative forwards in Scott and Tamou.
Cowboys have retained most of the side that brought the 2015 title to Townsville and of course, having Johnathan Thurston puts them well in the conversation for another Provan-Summons Trophy. Their only worry is replacing the retiring Glenn Hall and his link with Thurston, but they will finish top four again and attempt to buck the trend of reigning premiers not being able to go back-to-back in 2016.
Best line-up for 2016
1. Lachlan Coote
2. Kyle Feldt
3. Justin O'Neill
4. Kane Linnett
5. Antonio Winterstein
6. Michael Morgan
7. Johnathan Thurston
8. Matt Scott
9. Jake Granville
10. James Tamou
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Ethan Lowe
13. James Tamualolo
14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. John Asiata
16. Scott Bolton
17. Ben Hannant
Ins: Shaun Hudson (Titans), Jahrome Hughes (QLD ISC - Townsville)
Outs: Viliame Kikau (Panthers), Cameron King (Eels), Glenn Hall (retirement), Robert Lui (ESL - Salford), Kelepi Tanginoa, Scott Schulte (Eels)