North Queensland Cowboys: Season Review
HOME RECORD: 7 wins, 5 losses (=10th)
AWAY RECORD: 4 wins, 8 losses (=10th)
Did Not Qualify
BEST WINNING STREAK: 4 (rounds 9-13)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 4 (rounds 22-25)
PLAYERS USED: 28 (2 debutants)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Luke O'Donnell
TRIES SCORED: 98 (=3rd)
TRIES CONCEDED: 83 (=6th)
A season that promised so much fizzled into nothing for North Queensland as they missed the finals for the second year in a row.
Inconsistency was the Cowboys’ bane. Despite boasting the world’s best player in captain Johnathan Thurston and with fullback Matt Bowen back on deck, they endured a woeful start with just one win from their first five games and ended the year on a similar note with four consecutive losses before their final-round win over the Roosters.
Only a mid-season surge showed what this club is truly capable of, as they climbed to fifth on the ladder with eight rounds remaining.
But the loss of Bowen to a serious knee injury and Aaron Payne with a shoulder problem on the eve of the finals proved too much for the side to bare and they limped out meekly with losses to Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Newcastle and Brisbane.
Incredibly, despite losing two games more than they won, the Cowboys finished with a for-and-against of +84, boasted the third best attack in the competition and the sixth best defence.
Yet they struggled to win the close games – losing eight by 10 points or less and winning just twice in their final eight outings.
Where They Excelled… The Cowboys again proved difficult to beat at home and despite missing the finals they still ranked among the best attacking sides in the competition.
In fact, only two teams – the Bulldogs and South Sydney – scored more points that North Queensland in 2009.
Led by Thurston’s brilliance, they scored 30 points or more seven times, and 40+ twice!
Where They Struggled… The Cowboys began the year well behind the eight-ball – a fact coach Neil Henry initially attributed to last year’s World Cup delaying his side’s preparations.
Whatever the reason, they lost four of their first five games and after putting all of their efforts into a mid-season recovery, the grind wore them down.
They finished the season just as they started, to finish three points outside the top eight.
Missing In Action… Hooker Aaron Payne may not boast the credentials of captain Johnathan Thurston or fullback Matt Bowen but he has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys for the past seven years.
So it comes as no surprise that North Queensland’s late-season collapse coincided with his season-ending shoulder injury.
Payne tore the pectoral muscle off the bone during his side’s 24-4 win over Cronulla in Round 17 and the Cowboys won just two of their remaining eight games from that point.
Turning Point… A 34-14 loss to Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval in Round 18 started the rot and was certainly among North Queensland’s worst performances of the year.
A week later they went down to Penrith and after suggesting they were still finals-bound with a surprise win over the Gold Coast, they then lost their next four to crash out of finals contention.
Best Games… The Cowboys looked like world-beaters in disposing of in-form Newcastle 36-10 at Dairy Farmers Stadium in Round 11.
On the night that the NSW State of Origin side for Game One was announced, North Queensland were outstanding with back-rower Luke O’Donnell and Johnathan Thurston leading the way.
The Cowboys monstered Newcastle’s forwards, gave away nothing in defence and raced in six tries to score their fifth win from their past six games.
Worst Games… North Queensland’s 34-14 loss to the Tigers at Leichhardt bordered on embarrassing – despite the fact that the visitors actually opened the scoring with a try after just 44 seconds!
The Cowboys impressed for 10 minutes and then fell apart completely, with dropped balls and simple missed tackles gifting the Tigers a 16-8 half-time lead.
The second half was worse.
Coach Neil Henry was scathing in his post-match assessment, claiming his side’s performance wasn’t of first grade standard.
And just to rub salt into the wound, a series of scuffles between rival hookers Robbie Farah and Anthony Watts saw Farah emerge a clear winner over his Cowboys rival.
Hold Your Head High… Luke O’Donnell. The powerful back-rower was at the forefront of his side’s mid-season surge and was rewarded with a recall to the NSW State of Origin side for the first time since 2006.
The 28-year-old ran for 1923 metres at an average of 113 per game.
General manager football Dean Lance says… “Losing Aaron Payne was the crux. We not only lost him but Clint Amos as well early on. But we need to win more close matches. If you look at the stats they say there were only three or four teams that were better than us, yet we finished 12th. That’s hugely disappointing because we wonder ‘What could have been?’
“Still, you can’t lose eight of your last 11 games and expect to make the semis. We need to improve on that. We had a good for-and-against and we thought that if we could draw level with a few teams that might get us through, but you’ve got to win footy games in order to do that.”
Conclusion… The Cowboys are somewhat of an enigma in the NRL. Boasting a positive for-and-against, a lethal attack and a solid defensive line their stats alone suggest they should be seated comfortably among the top eight sides.
Yet the harsh reality is that they have finished way down in 12th. It’s not good enough for a club boasting the talent they have at their disposal.