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North Queensland Cowboys 2020 season preview

The Cowboys are coming off a disappointing 2019 season where little went right as they limped into 14th position.

Their premiership campaign was derailed before it even began as the Cowboys sacked big-name signing Ben Barba in February. 

From there they failed to gain any momentum in what was an injury-riddled season.

All that is behind the Townsville-based side though, with the Cowboys embarking on the the 2020 season with renewed optimism.

A new stadium, new fullback and some talented youth should give die-hard Cowboys fans plenty to be excited about.

The 2020 outlook

What's new

The signing of Valentine Holmes adds a touch of class to the backline, however veteran coach Paul Green has some tough decisions to make about other key positions. Will Jake Granville keep his No.9 jersey or will he be replaced by boom recruit Reece Robson? The club's incumbent hooker will be hard to edge out but the Cowboys signed Robson for a reason. 

The halves combination is also still up in the air. Michael Morgan will partner either Jake Clifford or Scott Drinkwater. The selection picture will become clearer after trial games against the Broncos and Storm. Clifford might be the front-runner based on his experience in the role. 

The Cowboys also run out on their new ground, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, in round one against the Broncos. The North Queenslanders will be desperate to cement the home ground advantage they once enjoyed at 1300 SMILES Stadium.

Marsters feels at home at Cowboys

The draw

There are no easy draws in the NRL in 2020 but the Cowboys have been given a reasonable start to the season. They play arch-rivals Brisbane twice in the first five rounds, starting with a home game at Townsville before a Good Friday clash on April 10. Away matches against the Bulldogs and Knights early in the season should give North Queensland a chance to be in a strong position if they can find form.

Fans in Townsville will experience a small drought in the middle of the year, with no Cowboys matches scheduled at Queensland Country Bank Stadium for a month. They play the Roosters at home on June 6 and don't return until July 12 when they play a rare Sunday afternoon game against the Knights.

Of their home games, the Cowboys play two Thursday night matches, two on Friday night, seven on Saturday - mostly at night - and one Sunday match.

The stat that gives you hope

Valentine Holmes is a winner. While the star fullback has missed a full season, his win/loss record in the NRL is impressive. 

The Townsville-born star boasts a 61 per cent winning record in the NRL - very good when you consider he played in six straight losses in his debut season.

Holmes was also a crucial member of the Sharks’ premiership-winning outfit in 2016, scoring 19 tries in 26 games.

Since the retirement of Johnathan Thurston, the Cowboys have lacked a genuine match-winner in the back half. If Holmes returns to his best form, the 24-year-old will be the recruit of the season.

Valentine Holmes media conference

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

Jason Taumalolo ($874k) is one of the best five captaincy options this year, Coen Hess ($471k) has trimmed down and will earn some big price rises if he gets a starting spot back, Val Holmes ($600k) can get you close to 50 points a game at fullback and dual-position player Scott Drinkwater ($405k) could be a steal if he locks down a starting spot at five-eighth.

The coach

Premiership-winning coach Paul Green faced enormous scrutiny in the back-half of 2019. Two consecutive seasons outside of the finals had some fans baying for blood.

However, Green is contracted until the end of the 2021 season and should feel confident about his future if the players can step up this year.

He has some big decisions to make, though. Will he stay loyal to experienced hooker Jake Granville or give Reece Robson first crack after signing him from the Dragons?

Drinkwater claims player of the tournament at NRL Nines

Can he get the best out of talented half Jake Clifford? If Clifford or Drinkwater don't fire in 2020, there's not much else in the reserve tank for Green to call upon.

Considering Green led North Queensland to its first NRL premiership and several other strong finals campaigns, he's got a few credits in the bank. But a poor start to 2020 and the jungle drums will start beating.

Contract matters

Most of the Cowboys' big names are signed past 2020. The wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo is signed until 2027 and skipper Michael Morgan is locked away until the end of 2023. Valentine Holmes is also secured until the end of 2025. 

Jake Clifford is one to keep an eye on. If he doesn't get a starting role, expect opposition clubs to start knocking. Jake Granville is signed until the end of 2021 but the Cowboys recruited Reece Robson on a four-year deal, so other clubs might show interest in the veteran rake if he spends time on the pine.

Winger Kyle Feldt and centre Tom Opacic also find themselves out of a contract at the end of 2020.

Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt.
Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt. ©NRL Photos

The burning question

Can the Cowboys create a new fortress at Queensland Country Bank Stadium and return to the finals? While one game doesn't define a season, a big win against the Broncos in the season opener at the new stadium could shape the 2020 outlook for the Cowboys.

A lot is going to rest on the shoulders of Taumalolo and Holmes.

Breakout player to watch

He will play more games in the Intrust Super Cup than the NRL, but if Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow pulls on the boots for the Cowboys this year he will be worth the price of admission.

A product of the Cowboys Academy program, Tabuai-Fidow has been promoted to the top squad for the 2020 season. 

The speed demon has played at fullback for most of his junior career, but can also play wing and centre.

The 18-year-old Cairns product scored 13 tries in six Mal Meninga Cup games in 2019.

Cowboys winger Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Cowboys winger Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. ©Grant Trouville

The quote

“There’s no doubt we’re in a transition stage, we have been for the last couple of years with so many experienced and great players leaving.

“Having said that, we’ve got a lot of confidence in some of the guys we’ve brought into the club and we’re really happy with the development of some of our younger players.

“We’re expecting to have a really competitive year.”

- Cowboys director of football Peter Parr