Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan.

For the first time in basically a generation, the Cowboys head into a season with no Johnathan Thurston, with veterans Kane Linnett and Lachlan Coote also leaving the club on the back of Antonio Winterstein's retirement.

The post-Thurston era is likely to begin with Te Maire Martin partnering Michael Morgan in the halves, though young gun Jake Clifford is ready for his chance. Ben Barba and Nene Macdonald add much-needed zip to the backline.

Ben Hampton's impressive work at centre may see he and Enari Tuala tip Justin O'Neill out of a top-17 berth. Javid Bowen and Gideon Mosby also await opportunities in the backline.

Josh McGuire bolsters the pack, likely at starting prop with Matt Scott in the twilight of his playing career set for a reduced role in 2019 although he could still handle the early salvos if Paul Green opts to use Jordan McLean as a bench weapon.

Resident NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says:

"I wouldn't mind seeing Javid Bowen in the centres instead of Hampton. Martin will probably get first crack in the halves but I wouldn't mind seeing him in the 14. Clifford showed enough last year to be able to play outside Morgan. The thing he's got over Te Maire is a really nice kicking game and he's a nice foil for Michael Morgan who will have pressure on him to deliver without JT.

"I'd have Clifford at six, Te Maire at 14, no Baptiste and Javid in the centres for Hampton.

"Matt Scott, does he start or come off the bench? McGuire will start up front and they'll all just play in the middle third, maybe see Taumalolo go into eight or 10, at the end of the day it's a jersey number, they all play in the middle."

NRL.com's predicted Round 1 team:

  1. Ben Barba
  2. Kyle Feldt
  3. Ben Hampton
  4. Enari Tuala
  5. Nene Macdonald
  6. Te Maire Martin
  7. Michael Morgan
  8. Jordan McLean
  9. Jake Granville
  10. Josh McGuire
  11. Gavin Cooper
  12. Coen Hess
  13. Jason Taumalolo
  14. Kurt Baptiste
  15. John Asiata
  16. Scott Bolton
  17. Matt Scott

Other squad members: Corey Jensen, Jake Clifford, Javid Bowen, Mitch Dunn, Ethan Lowe, Francis Molo, Gideon Mosby, Tom Opacic, Emre Pere, Murray Taulagi, Justin O'Neill, Shane Wright