The arrival of Valentine Holmes was meant to herald an exciting new era for the Cowboys. Unfortunately, nothing went to script.
Holmes's NRL comeback was marred by injury, captain Michael Morgan was sidelined for a long stretch and coach Paul Green departed as the losses piled up.
One positive from a dire campaign in which the Cowboys finished 14th, only avoiding the wooden spoon with a final-round win over the Broncos, was the emergence of some promising talent.
The likes of speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, playmaker Daejarn Asi and forward Tom Gilbert were thrown in at the deep end. Green often said the youngsters would benefit from a steep learning curve.
Todd Payten will take over the reins from interim coach Josh Hannay ahead of 2021 following his success at the Warriors. He'll have his work cut out to turn the club around, but there's reason for hope.
Home and Away record
The new, state-of-the-art Queensland Country Bank Stadium wasn't quite the fortress the Cowboys hoped it would be. They only won three games at their new base - the equal third-worst result.
While other teams briefly moved to a neutral "home" ground when the game returned from the COVID break, North Queensland were able to continue as normal but couldn't produce results.
Round seven's upset win over Newcastle or a golden-point triumph against the Dragons in round 17 were the home highlights.
The Cowboys struggled on the road with only two wins. A hefty travel load involving flying in and out of Sydney for games may have taken a toll. North Queensland beat Canterbury at ANZ Stadium in round two and the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in the last round.
Run metres differential
Despite boasting one of the game's premier metre-eaters in wrecking ball lock Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys struggled.
They ranked 11th in the competition with an average of only 1631 metres per match while conceding 1788 (13th) for a disappointing differential of -157.2 - the fourth-worst in the competition.
Taumalolo posted the most overall metres (3320) and metres per match (208) for the team. He ranked third in the league for metres per match but had little support. Prop Josh McGuire (166) was the only other North Queensland player to average more than 150 metres.
Try scoring - game time
The Cowboys were often guilty of starting slow, evidenced by the fact they scored only six tries all year inside the opening 10 minutes.
They had the most success between the 51st and 60th minutes, scoring 16.4 percent of their 67 total tries in that period with 11.
North Queensland proved to be more dangerous in second halves, with 56.6 percent of their tries coming after half-time.
Tries conceded - game time
It wasn't just in attack that the Cowboys started slowly. They conceded a whopping 37 tries - 40.2 percent of a total of 92 - in the opening 30 minutes of their games. The team also struggled to come out firing in defence immediately after the break, leaking another 17 tries (18.5 percent) between the 40th and 50th minutes.
Only the Broncos (102) conceded more tries than North Queensland, who were equal with Canterbury.
Tries scored from six-agains
The Cowboys were middling when it came to capitalising on ruck infringements, scoring nine tries off the back of six-again calls to rank equal 11th.
That still put them well clear of the Titans and Broncos, who shared last place in this metric with four tries apiece.
Still, with attacking dynamos like Holmes, Morgan, Tabuai-Fidow, Taumalolo and Scott Drinkwater, it's an area that incoming coach Todd Payten will want to improve.
Metres gained from offloads
Esan Marsters had a mixed first season as a Cowboy, but one thing that can't be denied is the centre's offload production. The Kiwi threw a team-high 25 offloads - and he only played 12 games.
North Queensland gained 205.9 metres from Marster's ability to move the ball. But prop Francis Molo was slightly more effective. He offloaded 22 times from which the side gained 208.8 metres.
Jason Taumalolo (14 offloads) and Coen Hess (14) helped provide 111.8 and 62.2 metres gained respectively for their teammates. Outside of the aforementioned players, there weren't many prolific offloaders in their line-up.
For a team that often struggled for points, an average goal-kicking of 66.2 percent (49 of 74 attempts) didn't help.
Holmes managed to kick 24 goals at 74 percent before injuries meant Kyle Feldt assumed the duties. The winger landed 23 goals at 62 percent.
Thirty players represented North Queensland in 2020. Four teams used 32 players - the most this season.
Six men debuted for the club - Ben Condon, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Connelly Lemuelu, Daejarn Asi, Tom Gilbert and Emry Pere.
The Cowboys ranked eighth for errors. They averaged 11.75 per match with 235 overall. Playmaker Scott Drinkwater produced the most mistakes with 32, followed by Holmes (20), Feldt (19), Marsters (14) and Tabuai-Fidow (14).
North Queensland's blunders tended to increase in the latter stages of matches, perhaps because they were often chasing points. The team made 44 errors between the 71st and 80th minute - the equal-second most.
Possession and Territory
The Cowboys had 50.6 percent of the ball throughout the season with an average of 40.6 sets per match at a completion rate of 76 percent (equal last).
They had an almost-even share of territory, spending 49.8 percent of the year inside their opponents' half.
2020 Form Guide
|1||Broncos||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 28-21|
|2||Bulldogs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Won 24-16|
|3||Titans||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Won 36-6|
|4||Sharks||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 26-16|
|5||Warriors||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Lost 37-26|
|6||Wests Tigers||Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney||Lost 36-20|
|7||Knights||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Won 32-20|
|8||Eels||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 42-4|
|9||Roosters||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 42-16|
|10||Panthers||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Lost 22-10|
|11||Sea Eagles||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 24-12|
|12||Raiders||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 14-12|
|13||Titans||Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast||Lost 30-10|
|14||Rabbitohs||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 31-30|
|15||Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle||Lost 12-0|
|16||Sharks||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Lost 28-12|
|17||Dragons||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Won 23-22|
|18||Storm||Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast||Lost 36-20|
|19||Panthers||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Lost 32-12|
|20||Broncos||Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane||Won 32-16|