When the Cowboys won the Auckland Nines in February it appeared as though Paul Green's winning ways had quickly rubbed off on the team but another heart-breaking finals exit left the club after 20 seasons still without a maiden premiership. In his second year as coach, these are the five questions Green needs to address in order to lead his team into the first weekend of October.
1. Is there a place for Lachlan Coote in Paul Green's team?
He was the high-profile recruit this time 12 months ago but following his ACL injury suffered in the Auckland Nines Lachlan Coote is still to make his Cowboys debut in the NRL. And what's worse, the man who was handed his fullback position, Michael Morgan, delivered one of the breakout seasons of 2014! Morgan's size, speed and skill was a revelation in the No.1 jersey and coach Paul Green now has to weigh up exactly where Coote fits into the equation. The former Panther spent time at five-eighth before making the move north but the halves combination between Johnathan Thurston and Robert Lui seemed a very settled one at the back-end of the season. It's a nice selection headache to have but a headache none the less.
2. Is Johnathan Thurston destined to play halfback from here on in?
There is a compelling case to suggest that whether you wear the No.6 or No.7 in the modern game but there is something that comes over the best player in the world when he is named to play at halfback as opposed to five-eighth. In the first half of the season the Cowboys won just six of their first 13 games with 'JT' at five-eighth and when he was shifted to halfback in Round 16 North Queensland won nine of the 11 games in which he played, one of those losses being the heart-breaking 31-30 finals defeat at the hands of the Roosters. In less games he produced the same number of line-break assists at halfback than he did at five-eighth while his 15 try assists were just two less than the 17 from 13 games at five-eighth. Call it what you will but JT is more at home at halfback.
3. What does Paul Green want from his No.9?
With four very different hooking options at his disposal, Green has the luxury of being able to pick the hooker he believes will best suit his game-plan, perhaps even depending on the opposition any given week. Rory Kostjasyn established himself as Green's No.1 No.9 very early in 2014 but faces stiff competition from the electric Jake Granville, the creative Cameron King and the skill and toughness of Ray Thompson for that starting spot. Granville's history at Wynnum Manly with Green may assist his cause while King is due a turn of luck after a horror run of injuries curtailed his NRL progression even after leaving the Dragons. Kostjasyn is likely to get first crack with Granville's speed perhaps a nice weapon to have on the bench.
4. Is Ben Hannant a good pick-up?
Given the loss of the Sims boys, Ashton and Tariq, there were a couple of gaps in the roster that needed filling and a one-year deal to Test and Origin front-rower Ben Hannant seems a good result for the Cowboys. Matt Scott and James Tamou both suffered significant injuries in 2014 and while Scott returned to his rampaging best, Tamou never quite recaptured the form that made him a Test and Origin player in 2013. The Broncos are light on for experienced NRL front-rowers heading into 2015 so on the surface it appears as though the Cowboys could turn Brisbane's trash into a real treasure.
5. Does the North Queensland curse actually exist?
In a word, no, and coach Paul Green will tell you as much. The Northern Pride proved with their State Championship win that the boys from up north are not unfairly discriminated against but any Cowboys fan is liable to ask when their luck is due to turn. The manner of their exit in 2014 wasn't quite as controversial as their previous two finals disappointments but it never the less led to the Cowboys faithful asking, Why us? The message from Green throughout another gruelling pre-season will be simple: Make your own luck.