Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Unfortunately for their supporters, the Cowboys again seem to be singing the same sad song – one of mid-season mediocrity after incredible pre-season hype and early promise.
Ladder position: 11th.
Overview: At this time last year, the Cowboys were at the lowest point of a free-fall with just four wins and nine losses. If there are positives to take from the current 6-7 record, it’s that last year’s boys still featured in finals festivities.
What’s most perplexing about this campaign so far is their points differential. Many supporters are dumbfounded at their 11th-place position considering how ‘well’ they’re playing. And when you look at it, they literally have a point. If +/- translated to ladder position, the Cowboys (+69) would be sitting pretty in fifth spot!
We’re predicting the second half of 2014 will be more fruitful than the first as players get more in tune with each other and rookie coach Paul Green, along with four free competition points courtesy of byes in Rounds 14 and 18.
Positives: After averaging just 16 points per game in a less-than-impressive first six rounds, the Cowboys have since upped that output by 10 per game, and a large reason is the increased confidence of Michael Morgan at fullback. Along with his surprising turn of foot, Morgan has integrated his ball-playing ability into the custodian role quite nicely, ranking equal first in the competition for both try assists and line break assists from the No.1 jersey.
Johnathan Thurston is also having a whale of a season, doing great work off the back of an improving forward pack that is proving quite deep, even in the absence of back-rower Gavin Cooper. Thurston leads the league in try assists and ranks third in line break assists.
In encouraging signs for Green, the team seems to have bought into his defence-first mentality – statistics show they are the league’s second best at sticking tackles and best at preventing offloads.
Negatives: Their poor record away from Townsville is the elephant in the room every single year, and the running total for 2014 currently sits at an ugly 0-6. For a team with premiership aspirations, Sydney simply needs to become more of a happy hunting ground – it’s no secret that’s where the Telstra Premiership decider is played.
Since 'JT' went north to No.6 there have been constant concerns about his sidekicks. Week in, week out, he’s required to do so much heavy lifting and the middling performances of Robert Lui and Ray Thompson at No.7 aren’t easing that load. Any successful NRL team needs multiple points of attack and someone needs to step up fast. Our mail is that Lachlan Coote’s rehab is ahead of schedule, so we aren’t yet ruling out a Morgan return to the No. 7 jersey late in the season.
Biggest Moment: Remember this line: “If that’s not an obstruction, I’ll walk nude through Pitt Street”? Round 7’s controversial loss to Manly definitely struck a nerve with coach Green and his players responded, going on an absolute tear over the three ensuing games, dishing out punishments of 28-, 13- and 32-point victories to really kick-start season 2014.
NRL.com Prediction: Having a look at the ladder predictor, with only five games at home in the second half of the season the Cowboys need to solve their Sydney slump in order to feature in finals footy. Their best chances appear to be away games to Newcastle, Cronulla and St George Illawarra; win all of those and they could earn themselves a home final. They'll most likely figure at the bottom end of the eight.