Cowboys fullback Ben Barba.

North Queensland's struggle to a 13th-place finish in 2018 - narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon - was a huge surprise to pundits who expected that the return of Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston would boost the 2017 grand finalists to an even better finish.

But they never really got going, finishing up as the fifth-worst attacking team and sixth-worst in defence and spent just one week all season – round one – in the top half of the ladder.

One of the glaring issues for Paul Green's men appeared to be a lack of spark out of the backfield, with youngsters Enari Tuala and Gideon Mosby given a run later in the year.

While the North Queensland back five finished second-last for total metres with 514.5 per game (the Broncos were perhaps surprisingly last with 492.5m), they were well short of the NRL average of 576.5m (let alone the Roosters' 680m).

They were last for tackle breaks from the back five with 291 (Eels 301, average 359, Roosters 496) and equal last with Parramatta for try assists from the back five with 13.

Expect a completely different result from the Cowboys backs in 2019 following the arrivals of Ben Barba, Nene Macdonald and Tom Opacic plus the departures of Antonio Winterstein (retired), Lachlan Coote and Kane Linnett (UK).