The North Queensland Cowboys will welcome 2022 with hopes of steering clear of the bottom of the table after a disastrous season, however, with questionable recruitment and major issues to fix, the club could well struggle to improve in 2021.
The 2021 season was a year that saw the Townsville-based club finish with one of the competition's worst defensive records, while their attack wasn't much better.
While the Cowboys spent the first half of 2021 winning matches at home, even that went away during the second part of the season. Todd Payten's side lost all ability to win games and went on a mega losing streak.
Now with questions surrounding how they will use Valentine Holmes, who will play in the halves, where their points come from and how they get Jason Taumalolo back to his best, a rise up the ladder seems some distance away from being a reality.
Ins: Brendan Elliot (2022), Peta Hiku (New Zealand Warriors, 2023), Jordan Lipp (2023), Morgan McWhirter (2022), Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (New Zealand Warriors, 2023), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks, 2024), Tyreece Woods (2022)
Outs: Javid Bowen (retired), Lachlan Burr (retired), Wiremu Greig (Parramatta 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), Michael Morgan (retired), Justin O'Neill (retired), Shane Wright (Salford Red Devils)
Star player: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
The man they call "The Hammer", Tabuai-Fidow is set for a permanent move to fullback this year after impressing in a handful of games at the back end of last year.
He is the reason Valentine Holmes will be making the move to centre, and while the Cowboys’ attack has plenty of questions hanging over it, the star youngster who made his Queensland debut last year can be the answer to plenty of them.
Rising star: Heilum Luki
The Cowboys are blessed in the second row. They have a stack of talented youngsters, but the best among them is undoubtedly Luki. The Cairns-born 20-year-old made 11 appearances last year in his debut season and seemed to simply get better every time he took to the field.
He will be out to continue his rapid improvement this year, locking down a starting spot ahead of Luciano Leilua’s arrival in 2023 when competition for spots will reach fever pitch.
Most under pressure: Valentine Holmes
Holmes is on a mega million-dollar deal at the Cowboys, and yet, doesn’t have a preferred spot in the team. The emergence of Tabuai-Fidow hasn’t helped his cause, but Holmes was poor at the back last year which put pressure on himself.
In fact, by the time the season was over, he was sitting in the top three for errors. It hurt the Cowboys greatly, and a shift to centre, where he has never played NRL before, will put enormous pressure on.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 2, vs Raiders, at Queensland Country Bank Stadium (Sat, Mar 19, 7:35pm)
Match 2: Round 3, vs Broncos, at Suncorp Stadium (Sun, Mar 27, 4:05pm)
Match 3: Round 10, vs Tigers, at Suncorp Stadium (Sun, May 15, 6:25pm)
Match 4: Round 13, vs Titans, at CBus Super Stadium (Thu, Jun 2, 7:50pm)
Match 5: Round 16, vs Broncos, at Queensland Country Bank Stadium (Sat, Jul 2, 5:30pm)
This is going to be a long hard year for the Cowboys. It’s unclear where their points are going to come from, and the talk that Scott Drinkwater could be left out makes things all the more concerning for Todd Payten’s side.
Tabuai-Fidow provides spark, and they have plenty of talent and potential in the forwards, but with a defensive attitude which was horrendous last year, as well as their likely attacking issues, the Cowboys will be in a scrap for the wooden spoon, with the only saving grace likely to be if they start to remember how to win at home.