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New Cowboy Josh McGuire.

There is a season for just about everything in North Queensland. A wet and a dry season. The season for cyclones and the one for the dreaded box jellyfish.

At the North Queensland Cowboys they just had a season, or more to the point an off-season, of recruiting.

Their "big three" signings – Ben Barba, Josh McGuire and Nene Macdonald – will provide a mixture of skill, size, aggression and flair to complement the squad the Cowboys already have.

Other shrewd buys in former Canberra hooker Kurt Baptiste, Broncos centre Tom Opacic and Souths-Logan rising star Dan Russell, also a centre, will provide depth in key areas.

Unlike the aforementioned cyclical "seasons" however, the Cowboys don't want to be going to the market year after year. Buy and hold is more in line with their guiding philosophy.

Cowboys director of football Peter Parr half smiles to himself when he reads how well clubs that go on big-name spending sprees have recruited because he is well aware that the most successful clubs are the ones that retain their stars.

The Cowboys have been as good as any.

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When the 17 that took the field in North Queensland's 2015 grand final side all backed up to play with the club in 2016 it was the first time that a premiership-winning club had retained their entire grand final squad since Parramatta in 1982/83.

"We've always tried to set ourselves up as a retention club but our goal as a club over the next year or two is to regenerate our squad where we have to, recruit where we have to and bring some young players in our system through," Parr told

If anyone can tell me a better person to take over from Johnathan I’m all ears

Peter Parr on Michael Morgan

"Then we'll get ourselves a squad we are really happy with, keep that squad together and retain it for a period of time."

The Cowboys have shown loyalty to their players and built a reputation for treating them well.

Players and their agents are aware of that. For that reason, the club has positioned itself as one that will not have difficulties attracting players north when it is time to go to market.

That time is now.

After reaching seven finals series in a row, a period that included winning the 2015 grand final and making the 2017 decider, the Cowboys slipped out of the eight in 2018.

Parr said it was time to look further afield to build on what the club already had.

Cowboys fullback Ben Barba.
Cowboys fullback Ben Barba. ©

"We have recruited some good young players and some experienced players in McGuire and Barba, who we think they have both got plenty of good football left in them," Parr said.

"We are also starting to bring through players like Jake Clifford, Enari Tuala and Coen Hess.

"We think we are getting the balance right, and once we have got it right our goal will be again to keep that squad together."

The recruitment of their three big-name signings Barba, Macdonald and McGuire are all in areas Parr said the club needed to strengthen.

"We lost an experienced fullback in Lachlan Coote who played two grand finals for us in the short period he was at the club so we recruited Barba," he said.

Cowboys winger Nene Macdonald.
Cowboys winger Nene Macdonald. ©

"We also lost a guy we consider to be one of our best performers in Antonio Winterstein on the wing so we got Nene Macdonald, and we have a middle forward rotation where we thought we were one short and Josh McGuire fitted that bill."

The retirement of champion halfback Johnathan Thurston has been planned for well in advance.

The challenge of finding a playmaker to replace departing legends of the game has previously been faced by clubs like Newcastle and the Broncos in the wake of the retirements of Andrew Johns and Allan Langer.

The fact is that there are no easy solutions but the Cowboys have as good a replacement for Thurston as any and a homegrown one already in their system.

"We have enormous confidence in Michael Morgan," Parr said.

"There will never be another Johnathan. We understand that, but Michael Morgan has done a better apprenticeship than anyone in the competition to take over from Johnathan.

"He's played his whole career with Johnathan. He's played Origin and been on Kangaroo tours with Johnathan and Cooper Cronk. He’s played two grand finals, won a premiership in the halves and played 150 NRL games.

"If anyone can tell me a better person to take over from Johnathan I'm all ears ... but we think he is ready to run the footy team."

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