North Queensland Cowboys line up for 2021

The North Queensland Cowboys are rampaging after a slow start (credit NQ Cowboys twitter)

The North Queensland Cowboys had a slow start to the season but have turned it around. What does the team now need to do to make finals?

Snapshot of the season

The North Queensland Cowboys have been there or thereabouts all year. Currently sitting just outside the top eight, point difference is the only thing keeping the Cowboys outside of finals contention. After a tough start to the season, going zero wins from the first four games, the Cowboys have had a remarkable turnaround. Since round five, the side has managed to go six wins and four losses in what has been an impressive flip of form. With finals still a real possibility for the Cowboys, fans are hoping to continue the teams winning ways.

What has worked

Importantly the Cowboys have managed to come through in close matches, with two field-goal wins against the Broncos and the Warriors, and a two-point win against the Raiders. The side seem to have the mental toughness required to go far into finals.

The backfield duo of Origin representatives, Valentine Holmes and Kyle Feldt has been a big plus for the Cowboys so far this season

Holmes is arguably the Cowboys most crucial player, a real barometer of how the side is playing. He currently sits sixth in the competition for run metres with 2,492, and is the highest points scorer at the Cowboys with 96 so far this season.

Feldt has become a real threat on the outside scoring six tries and running 1410 metres, the second most after Holmes. One area where Feldt needs to improve is his discipline. Feldt has given away seven penalties in the year, which can cost the side wins in close games.

What has not worked

One primary reason why the Cowboys are not higher on the ladder is the lack of ability to win against higher place sides. Of the six games that the Cowboys have won this season, not one has been against a team higher placed on the ladder. If the Cowboys want to succeed going forward, they will need to improve their game against the higher-ranked opposition.

Scott Drinkwater has been a point of worry during the season. The five-eighth has missed 46 tackles this year, too many for a potential finals team. However, Drinkwater does lead the Cowboys for try assists. So, while he needs to improve on the defensive end, his offensive skills are still critical to the Cowboys success.

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Who needs to lift

Valentine Holmes: Despite an impressive season in all the major stat categories, Holmes also leads the competition for errors with 29. While his speed with ball in hand is a danger for the opposition, costly errors in a big finals could mean an early exit for the Cowboys.

The Run Home

With the Cowboys sitting just outside the eight, if the team can continue its winning ways from the middle part of the season, they will guarantee a finals place. The road ahead looks difficult with the team having to play primarily top eight sides, which will be their biggest test of the year. However, if they can push through and win some games, they will gain a heap of confidence that the side can go deep into the finals.

Remaining Matches

July 3rd v KnightsJuly 9th v Rabbitohs
July 17th v RoostersJuly 23rd v Storm
July 30th v BroncosAugust 8th v Titans
August 14th v West TigersAugust 21st v Eels
August 28th v DragonsSeptember 4th v Sea Eagles

Can the Cowboys play finals

With the Cowboys quite a distance behind the Sharks in point difference, the side will likely need more overall wins to make the finals. While this is a doable task, it will be challenging. With the Cowboys playing top eight sides in six of their last ten matches, they will need to lift in a significant way.

Players to return from injury/Origin

Valentine Holmes, Kyle Feldt and Francis Molo all played in game two of State of Origin and are in line for selection for the dead rubber. Todd Payten and his high performance staff will look to manage the trio in order to ensure the are right to go come finals.

The Cowboys are lucky that they do not have the extensive injury list of many other sides. Connelly Lemuelu will return in round 17 with a minor thumb injury, Reuben Cotter has sustained a foot injury and will return in round 20, while Ben Hampton has unfortunately torn his pectoral muscle and is looking at a round 20 return.

The North Queensland Cowboys next play against the Knights on July 3rd live from McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.

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