Cowboys ready. Picture: North Queensland Cowboys social media.

The Cowboys head to Panthers Stadium tonight with a new coach and a new lease on life. Can they cause a huge upset in round 1?

By Vincent Holliday

Two words. Ten letters. Todd Payten.

The new man at the helm in Townsville giving North Queensland fans hope after what was a forgettable, injury ridden 2020 campaign.

Payten leads a relatively unchanged side bursting with newfound enthusiasm after debuting six players last season, promising a complete shift in attacking and defensive structures.

New signing Lachlan Burr, the former Warrior, joins veteran players Josh McGuire, Jason Taumalolo and Jordan Mclean to bolster an already world class forward pack.

A fully fit Michael Morgan will look to take advantage of a talented backline boasting names like Valentine Holmes, Hamiso Tabuo-Fidow and Scott Drinkwater, who have found themselves in a three-way battle for the number one position.

Payten insists the player that can best organise the defensive line will be sworn in as the official fullback for the 2021 season. Scott Drinkwater started in the heavily contested position in the team’s only trial game on Saturday at Redcliffe, however Payten shifted Holmes to fullback in the second half after the Broncos ran out to a 18-6 lead.

Valentine’s form in the second stanza told fans North of the border all they needed to know, which is that the former NFL star is nearing his best and has the potential to efficiently organise the side in defence, outscoring Brisbane 28-0 in the second half.

Former Wests Tiger Kane Bradley will look for game time in either the centre or wing position after signing in the off season. While prodigal son Javid Bowen has also re-joined the club as he looks to cement a starting spot after a he was let go in 2019.

Both outside back signings will need to compete with what looks like a reinvigorated and fully fit Esan Masters, who proved dangerous in attack with five tackle breaks and 105 running metres in last weekend’s trial.

After what was a rusty start to a new era in Townsville in 2020, which saw the opening of Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Cowboys fans will be hoping that Payten and new assistant coaches Dean Young, Steve Georgallis and Ben Rauter can work through some of the squad’s teething issues.

Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan will co-captain the side when they kick off their 2021 season with an away clash against minor premiers Penrith on Saturday March 13th before hosting the Dragons in round two.

2021 squad: Daejarn Asi, Michael Bell, Lachlan Burr, Jake Clifford, Ben Condon, Reuben Cotter, Scott Drinkwater, Mitchell Dunn, Kyle Feldt, Thomas Gilbert, Jake Granville, Wiremu Gregg, Ben Hampton, Coen Hess, Peter Hola, Valentine Holmes, Corey Jensen, Connelly Lemuelu, Heilum Luki, Esan Marsters, Josh McGuire, Jordan McLean, Francis Molo, Michael Morgan, Ieremia Nanai, Justin O’Neill, Emry Pere, Reece Robson, Tukimihia Simpkins, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi, Jason Taumalolo, Shane Wright

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