The Cowboys will be without Johnathan Thurston for the first time in a long time.
The Cowboys will be without Johnathan Thurston for the first time in a long time.

Pre-season can get Cowboys back on track

MONDAY will mark a fresh start for the Cowboys.

In one of the biggest NRL shocks of 2018, the pre-season premiership favourites in North Queensland suffered a massive slide, finishing in 13th place on the ladder.

But as they return to training next week, the Paul Green-coached side will be determined to turn their form around for 2019.

They have been busy on the recruiting front, bringing in the likes of Ben Barba and Nene Macdonald, and will have some new combinations following the retirement of Johnathan Thurston and the axing of a number of long-time players, including Lachlan Coote and Kane Linnett.

The Cowboys are primed to change things around in 2019.

 

Playmaker Michael Morgan is the man who needs to lift as Johnathan Thurston’s replacement. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Playmaker Michael Morgan is the man who needs to lift as Johnathan Thurston’s replacement. Picture: Zak Simmonds

 

KEY PLAYER - MICHAEL MORGAN

WHEN Johnathan Thurston was ruled out of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Morgan became the hero the Cowboys needed.

He was not able to back that form up this year after suffering from a torn bicep and an ongoing groin injury, but he will be back in 2019 with a vengeance.

Morgan will want to prove that not only can he get back to his best, but he can steer the Cowboys to finals glory once again.

 

Ben Barba will have the pressure on him as the new guy in town. Picture: Peter Wallis
Ben Barba will have the pressure on him as the new guy in town. Picture: Peter Wallis

 

UNDER PRESSURE - BEN BARBA

THE former Cronulla fullback has said this is his last chance to save his NRL career.

After he was sacked from the Sharks in 2016 for two positive tests to cocaine, the former Dally M winner went to the Super League to rebuild his career.

Now he's returned home and the entire rugby league world will be watching to see how he responds in his NRL comeback.

The Cowboys have also given him just a one-year deal so the pressure will be on Barba not just to prove his class on the field, but off the field as well.

 

Jake Clifford looks set to be the next playmaking whiz kid for the Cowboys.
Jake Clifford looks set to be the next playmaking whiz kid for the Cowboys.

 

ONE TO WATCH - JAKE CLIFFORD

CLIFFORD is the current frontrunner to join Michael Morgan in the halves next year following the retirement of Johnathan Thurston.

The 20-year-old whiz kid played six NRL games last season and it was clear he grew in confidence with each match.

Having also learnt from the very best in Thurston, Clifford is expected to be given the chance to help Morgan run the show in 2019.

 

MAIN TALKING POINT - THE LOSS OF JT

THE Cowboys have played under the shadow of Johnathan Thurston for a long time and that won't change in 2019.

It will be their first season without the superstar playmaker and there is no doubt all eyes will be on the Townsville-based club to see how they fare without him.

Given last season's disappointment, surely the only way is up for the Cowboys while Morgan, Clifford and the club's other playmakers will want to make a statement of their own.

 

GAINS AND LOSSES

Gains: Ben Barba (St Helens), Nene Macdonald (Dragons), Tom Opacic (Broncos), Kurt Baptiste (Roosters), Dan Russell (Souths Logan Magpies)

Losses: Johnathan Thurston, Antonio Winterstein (retirement), Lachlan Coote (St Helens), Kane Linnett, Shaun Fensom, Sam Hoare, Josh Chudleigh, Kyle Laybutt, Shaun Hudson (released)

OFF CONTRACT IN 2019

Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess, Ben Barba, Scott Bolton, Ethan Lowe, Justin O'Neill, Te Maire Martin, Ben Hampton, Enari Tuala, Gideon Gela-Mosby, Javid Bowen, Corey Jensen, Kurt Baptiste, Carlin Anderson