19/05/2024

After a disappointing 2021 season culminated in a 15th placed finish, the Cowboys will be looking for a resurgent 2022 season. Photo: cowboys.com.au Design: Will Cuckson

After a fourth straight season without the finals in 2021, the Cowboys are hoping to give their fans something more to cheer about in 2022.

Following a disappointing finish to the 2021 NRL season, the North Queensland Cowboys will be hoping for significant improvement in 2022.

After a busy off-season, the Cowboys have added some experience in Chad Townsend, while retaining excitement machine Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

For Cowboys fans, there is plenty to look forward to in 2022. If the experience of Jason Taumalolo can combine with the young brigade of talent, they can make significant strides up the ladder.

Last year

The Cowboys endured their worst season since 2008 in 2021, plummeting to 15th on the ladder, winning just seven games.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they would fall victim to a lot of big defeats throughout the season. However, after a positive stretch of wins midway through the year, the Cowboys fans can’t be blamed for having a great sense of optimism heading into 2022.

North Queensland couldn’t have started the season much worse, losing their opening four matches as well as being defeated by 36 points, and 38 points in consecutive weeks.

After a poor start, the Cowboys would show some fighting spirit, winning six of their next eight matches and would find themselves at an even 6-6 record as they headed into the mid-season bye.

However, what followed would shock the NRL world as the Cowboys would be defeated in their next ten matches. They won just one game in their last 12, a 38-26 victory against the Dragons in round 24.

Although the 2021 season was a difficult one for the Cowboys, there were a lot of positive signs for fans, including exciting full-back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. The youngster wowed fans with his speed and willingness to take the game on and was a highlight for North Queensland all season long.

Squad changes

Ins:

Peta Hiku (New Zealand Warriors), Jamayne Taunoa Brown (New Zealand Warriors), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks), Tyrece Woods, Brendan Elliot, Jordan Lipp, Morgan McWhirter.

Outs:

Wiremu Greig (Paramatta Eels), Peter Hola (Canberra Raiders), Corey Jensen (Brisbane Broncos), Esan Marsters (Gold Coast Titans), Josh McGuire (St George Illawarra Dragons), Francis Molo (St George Illawarra Dragons), Shane Wright (Salford Red Devils), Javid Bowen (Retired), Michael Morgan (Retired), Justin O’Neill (Retired).

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Track watch

Riley Price, son of NRL legend Steve, has impressed North Queensland’s coaching group immensely throughout the pre-season and looks primed to see some minutes at first grade in 2022. Although the youngster is on a development contract, meaning he is unable to play until round ten, it gives Cowboys fans something to be excited about for the future.

Price plays in a very similar style to his father, who is the Maroons most capped player of all time. He is tough, hard-running and is no stranger to hard work. This is something that Cowboys fans have been crying out for, and they will be raring to have Riley link up with the rest of the squad in years to come.

Connelly Lemuelu has also worked very hard over the pre-season, hoping he can break into the back-row this season. Lemuelu’s fitness is at an all-time high, and his talent could make it very difficult for opposition coaches to get under control.

What to expect

With another pre-season under the belt, a lot of the Cowboys young brigade could be ready to go to the next level in 2022 and beyond. With a fast and exciting play style, they could become one of the most watchable clubs in the competition.

With players like Tabuai-Fidow and Lemuelu mixed with experienced point scorers Valentine Holmes and Kyle Feldt the Cowboys have the potential to be an offensive powerhouse.

The Cowboys have also bolstered the leadership in their lineup with the inclusion of Townsend who will look to steer the team in the halves, while Taumalolo also appears to be fit and healthy after a season filled with injury setbacks.

While it would be a shock to see the Cowboys make finals, 2022 could set the platform for long-term future success.

It’s a big year for?

Jason Taumalolo

After having a difficult time with injuries and adjusting to life under Todd Payten in 2021, the Cowboys legend should be back to his brilliant best this year.

The skipper is entering his 13th season at the club, with his crash and bash style making him an excellent leader. However, with the added experience to the squad in 2022, the pressure should be lifted of Taumalolo’s shoulders, freeing him up to be the pivotal link player the Cowboys need.

If Taumalolo can remain fit and gel with his fellow experienced heads, his experience, combined with his terrific skill set, could see the Cowboys start the climb back up the ladder.

Biggest Unanswered Question:

Can the coach and captain get on the same page?

Following reports of a rift between coach Todd Payten and Taumalolo, the North Queensland Cowboys biggest question is whether they’re on the same page or not. If they aren’t the implications on the Cowboys season, will be significant.

Taumalolo and Payten’s ideas differed, and it had significant effects on the Cowboys champion’s ability to perform at the highest level. While injuries also played a part, the preparation for North Queensland was all of a sudden put into the spotlight.

However, if the two can put their differences aside, and find some common ground, North Queensland may surprise a few this year. The influence of one of the greatest Cowboys of all time, and new assistant, Johnathan Thurston, could also have an impact on this in more ways than one.

Coach pressure index:

Medium

Having completed his first season as the Cowboys boss in 2021, life under Todd Payten hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Cowboys.

After his issues with Taumalolo became clear, it was evident that the Cowboys boss would be facing an uphill battle if he wanted to gain back the respect and trust of the Cowboys fanbase. However, it didn’t get any easier for the Cowboys boss as his side slumped to ten straight defeats after the mid-season bye.

While changing head coaches after just two seasons is unlikely, the Cowboys fans will be looking for improvement from their side, giving the fans confidence for the upcoming years.

Predicted round one lineup

The Cowboys predicted round one side
Headshots: cowboys.com.au Design: Will Cuckson

Spots in Payten’s forward pack will be hotly contested all season with an impressive group of young forwards coming through the ranks.

The makeup of Payten’s backs also will provide a hot topic of conversation. Expect Holmes to start in the centres after Murray Taulagi had a good season on the wing.

Lemuelu could provide Payten with some real spark off the bench with his ability to play as a genuine utility allowing Payten to slot in the youngster anywhere mid game.

Ladder Range:

12th – 16th

It is difficult to see the Cowboys contending for a position in the top eight, particularly considering they haven’t won more than ten games in the past four years. However, there is renewed hope for Todd Payten’s side.

After a busy off-season period, the Cowboys have made improvements to their squad, and with another pre-season under his belt, Tabuai-Fidow could have a breakout season this year.

To support this, the inclusion of some experienced players could help the Cowboys become a force to be reckoned with.

On paper, North Queensland have a strong looking outfit and they might surprise a few sides as they look to continue their rebuild. Though the question remains as to whether they can potentially make their first finals appearance since 2017 when they were just one game away from premiership glory.

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