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In a series analysing who will line up in each position for all 16 teams in the opening round of the Telstra Premiership in 2021, NRL.com looks at the North Queensland Cowboys.

NRL.com says: With Jake Clifford's future elsewhere in 2022, Scott Drinkwater and Michael Morgan are likely the preferred starting halves combination.

Tom Gilbert was arguably the club's best forward towards the end of 2020 and deserves a starting spot but will miss the start of the season after breaking his leg in the pre-season, meaning Coen Hess could return to the run-on team.

Indigenous All Stars representative Reuben Cotter could pass Jake Granville as the preferred hooker back-up.

Jamie Soward says: My biggest question is around Val. The Origin stint at fullback didn't convince anyone he's a No.1. Payten would be wanting him to support the ball, for the Cowboys to play between the 20s and use their strengths.

They're losing some experience and I don’t know if that is going to translate to excited youth coming through or if they'll lose a couple of games and fall back to giving it to Taumalolo for hit-ups then hoping Morgan can get them out of trouble.

It starts with Val but some guys need to have their best year. McLean needs a big year. Hess you'd expect to hold out Dunn in the starting team but I don’t know if he's got the motor.

They don't have a lot of depth in key positions. Drinkwater and Morgan should complement each other but what does that look like when Morgan is taking over and where does Drinkwater fit in when Morgan is quiet?

Cowboys in 2021

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