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For & Against: Will the Cowboys make the top eight?

The North Queensland Cowboys have won their last two matches and are looking like potential NRL finalists.

Jason Taumalolo remains arguably the best forward in the game and the return to rugby league of Valentine Holmes is already paying dividends.

When you add the likes of Michael Morgan, Jordan McLean, Josh McGuire and the reborn Coen Hess to the mix, talent abounds.

But will it be enough to land a spot in the top eight?

For senior journalist Martin Lenehan

If the last decade has taught us anything, it's that behind every great team is a great fullback, and in Valentine Holmes the Cowboys have a man more than capable of emulating the deeds of recent premiership winners James Tedesco, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.

Cowboys excited as Valentine finds his home

Speed, power, vision and an uncanny ability to create something from nothing - the great No.1s possess those attributes in spades. Holmes is blessed with more than his share of all four traits.

Already a grand final winner with the Sharks in 2016 and the scorer of a ridiculous 11 tries in the space of a week for the Kangaroos at the 2017 World Cup, Holmes has quickly reignited the flame in his three matches back from a stint in American football.

The 24-year-old has chalked up five try assists and five line-break assists and is building a combination with five-eighth Scott Drinkwater which will ensure the Cowboys rack up plenty of big scores on their way to a first finals appearance since 2017.

After a couple of lean years, Paul Green now has the perfect blend of metre-eaters and magic men to capitalise on the new rules, with Reece Robson, Michael Morgan, Jake Clifford, Drinkwater and Holmes working off the back of the wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo and workhorses Josh McGuire and Jordan McLean.

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Taumalolo is averaging an astonishing 273 metres per game in 2020 and requires three or four defenders to bring him down every time he unleashes a charge.

Such is his athleticism, Taumalolo gets to his feet quickly and a fast play the ball gives his playmakers ample time to capitalise on the carnage he has created.

Already this season the Cowboys are averaging 27 points per game and they'll be even more potent when Morgan returns from a shoulder injury.

It's a side stacked with attacking weapons and boasting a gun No.1 about to unleash the sort of season which inspires those around him to greater heights.

Against editor Paul Suttor

North Queensland should be there or thereabouts when the final eight is decided but they still seem to lack the extra edge in attack to be a playoff certainty.

The arrival of Valentine Holmes in the off-season has given them much-needed spark out wide to cash in on Jason Taumalolo’s record-breaking metre-eating up the middle but outside of the fullback, who else is going to put points on when it matters?

Cowboys hooker Reece Robson.
Cowboys hooker Reece Robson. ©Dave Acree/NRL Photos

Cowboys captain Michael Morgan is not due back for another few weeks so a lot will fall on the shoulders of inexperienced halves duo Jake Clifford and Scott Drinkwater in the interim.

They did their job well against last-placed Gold Coast on Friday but sterner tests await.

This Saturday's opponents, Cronulla, are better than their 0-3 record suggests and will be desperate to break their duck in Townsville.

The rest of the Cowboys backline have been solid but not spectacular in recent seasons – Kyle Feldt is a great finisher on one flank and Ben Hampton is as reliable as can be on the other wing while centre pairing Justin O'Neill and Esan Marsters have struggled for consistency.

In the forwards, there is no doubting Taumalolo's game-changing ability – his numbers have been incredible but more than that, he's striking genuine fear in opponents with his charges through the middle.

But the rest of the pack needs to step up to support the Tongan terminator.

Robson makes it a double for good measure

Jordan McLean has shown glimpses of the form which lifted him to Test status when he was at the Storm, Josh McGuire is no longer as dominant as he was at Brisbane but can still be a factor if he can steer clear of the judiciary and Coen Hess needs to string together a bunch of strong performances to get back into Queensland selection calculations.

The addition of back-up hooker Reece Robson from St George Illawarra has already shown in the first few rounds it could be a massive bonus, giving the Cowboys more creativity in attack out of dummy-half.

It appears only a matter of time before he unseats Jake Granville as the starting hooker.

North Queensland are still to prove if they can match it with the big guns – they were soundly beaten by the Broncos in round one and did enough to get past the struggling Bulldogs and Titans.

Paul Green is a clever coach and he proved in 2017 that he can get his team to defy the odds but when the whips are cracking at the end of the season, his Cowboys need to be firing better in attack to ensure they make the playoffs for the first time since that memorable run to the grand final three years ago.​

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