Mid-Season Review: North Queensland Cowboys

Position after 13 rounds: 15th
Wins: 3
Losses: 98
Byes: 1
Points: 8
Differential: -94

If errors give NRL coaches headaches, Cowboys coach Neil Henry must have one hell of a migraine. In 2010, the Cowboys have committed far too many errors – at the worst times, at the wrong end of the field – to compete in a lot of games. In fact, North Queensland have the worst record this season in the competition – as of the end of round 13, they commit 13.9 errors per game. It’s affecting their entire game, and resulting in them scoring fewer points (18.2 per game – 13th) and conceding more (26 – last).

So far in 2010, the Cowboys have won just three of 12 matches (one bye), even worse than this time last year when they’d won seven matches… and they finished 12th.

For North Queensland fans, it looks like being a long season… but anything has to be possible with the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen and Aaron Payne in the team.

Are Things Going To Plan? Definitely, absolutely, surely Neil Henry would’ve, should’ve and could’ve been expecting a whole lot more from his team at the halfway point. To say it’s been a disappointment so far is a massive understatement.

Three victories – against the Panthers, Titans and Roosters – in a dozen matches must have the officials in Townsville scratching their heads. What on earth has gone wrong?

Injury Front… Johnathan Thurston gave Cowboys fans a massive scare earlier this season when he went down with a shoulder injury, but thankfully for his struggling NRL side – and the Queensland Origin team – he’s proven a quick healer.

Initial reports of his injury – sustained in his team’s terrible loss at home to the Storm – predicted a lengthy stint on the sideline, but reports later showed the injury to be nothing too serious.

Hooker Aaron Payne is another lucky to have avoided an extended period on the sideline – preliminary diagnosis of his ankle showed it might’ve been broken, but it was later revealed to be only ligament damage.

Both players have returned to the field and played nine (Payne) and 10 games (Thurston), so their absence is no cause of the Cowboys’ failure thus far.

Steve Southern’s knee injury, however, is much more serious and something that will keep him off the field for the entire season. However, with the recruitment of Willie Mason this season, it’s an area the team can cover.

If Only… The Cowboys could decide on a five-eighth to play alongside Thurston – it’d create stability for the team and result in a more fluent attack.

So far this season they’ve run with Michael Morgan, Grant Rovelli, Ray Thompson and Ty Williams (as well as ‘JT’ for one game), resulting in disjointed attacking play.

The Cowboys’ coaching staff need to invest their time and faith in one pivot. Their other major concern is their ball control, and if that’s remedied soon their fortunes could change for the better – and quickly.

Who’s Flying… Forwards Scott Bolton and Matthew Scott continue to do their darndest for the Cowboys – but more often than not, unfortunately, it’s been to no avail.

Bolton continues to evolve as a footballer and his thirst for work has this season resulted in six tries, 33 tackle-breaks and an average of 29 tackles and 95 metres per game.

Scott relishes his role in centre field, averaging 120 metres per game, making 22 tackles along the way.

Utility Anthony Watts continues to provide spark when he hits the playing surface, while regular performers Thurston and second-rower Luke O’Donnell plug away as they’ve done for many seasons.

Needs To Lift… It’s hard – and harsh – to be critical of a player four weeks into his comeback from a knee reconstruction, but Matt Bowen is someone the Cowboys need to hit his straps.

With Matt Bowen at full stride the Cowboys are a team most sides have difficulties containing… but in his four games this season it just hasn’t clicked – yet. Not one line-break, just one try and very little interchange work with his usual partner in crime, Thurston.

Rest assured, however, that if he returns to full fitness, confidence and pace, the Cowboys will be back – and in a big way.

Hooker Aaron Payne tells NRL.com…
“Obviously it’s disappointing to be down the ladder halfway through the season but fans need to know we are trying our best. At the moment our major problem is ball control – we can’t expect to compete in games when our completion rate is 50 per cent.

“When that happens we can only expect to receive 40 per cent of the football… and winning from there is almost impossible. If we correct our poor completion rates and regain some confidence we’ll be playing much better football.”

Predicted finish…
Any injury to the Cowboys’ ‘awesome foursome’ – Thurston, Payne, O’Donnell or Bowen – and their season is completely shot to ribbons. But with all players fit and firing it’s very difficult to completely discount them. Only 12th – but don’t count on it.

Under-20s…  The news is much better in the Toyota Cup, where the Cowboys sit atop the premiership ladder… by for-and-against. Tied on competition points with Manly, Wests Tigers and Souths on 18, the Cowboys have backed their attacking abilities so far.

However; they’re still beatable, losing by one point in a thriller against the Rabbitohs in Round 13.

James Segeyaro (nine tries) and Wayne Ulugia (seven tries) have proven particularly elusive.