SuperCoach NRL 2019 study guide: NQ Cowboys
NORTH Queensland was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2019 season, but don't expect lightning to strike twice with the Cowboys well poised to bounce back immediately in 2019.
A number of key recruits, headlined by Ben Barba, Nene Macdonald and Josh McGuire, means the Cowboys should have more strike power this year.
The departure of Johnathan Thurston should open up the opportunity for others to have greater involvement and turn into SuperCoach must-haves.
Here are the Cowboys options to consider for your round one SuperCoach team.
BYE: Round 16
BEST 17: 1. Ben Barba, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Ben Hampton, 4. Nene Macdonald, 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6. Jake Clifford, 7. Michael Morgan, 8. Jordan McLean, 9. Jake Granville, 10. Josh McGuire, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Coen Hess, 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Kurt Baptiste, 15. Scott Bolton, 16. Matt Scott, 17. John Asiata.
WHO'S LEFT: Carlin Anderson, Dan Russell, Enari Tuala, Javid Bowen, Justin O'Neill, Kurt Wiltshire, Murray Taulagi, Te Maire Martin, Tom Opacic, Corey Jensen, Emry Pere, Ethan Lowe, Francis Molo, Logan Bayliss-Brow, Mitchell Dunn, Reuben Cotter, Shane Wright, Thomas Gilbert
IN: Josh McGuire (2022), Dan Russell (2020), Tom Opacic (2020), Kurt Baptiste (2019), Ben Barba (2019), Nene Macdonald (2021).
MICHAEL MORGAN (5/8/HFB, $409,200)
2018 average: 43.7
Morgan had a year to forget personally last year, with injuries limiting him to just 11 games and ended by surgery for a torn biceps.
Even when he was on the field he was carrying stomach and groin niggles, and therefore didn't have his usual impact.
But with Thurston now retired, Morgan will be pulling the strings at halfback and his involvement will increase dramatically.
He showed how damaging he can be as the main man in the back end of 2017, when he steered the Cowboys to the grand final and claimed the Dally M halfback of the year award when Thurston was out injured.
JASON TAUMALOLO (2RF, $657,400)
2018 average: 70.3
The Tonga international is the second most expensive forward in SuperCoach (if you don't count hookers), behind only Manly's Jake Trbojevic, and for good reason.
If the 25-year-old doesn't run for at least 200 metres in a game, he's unfairly considered to be 'out of form' and he had to cop plenty of that talk last year.
The interesting factor will be if the arrival of Josh McGuire from Brisbane prompts Cowboys coach Paul Green to shift Taumalolo to the second row.
If that's the case, his involvement won't be as great but running against small halves in open spaces gives him the chance to compensate in SuperCoach with more tackle busts and tries.
Even if Taumalolo doesn't move out wide permanently, Green has the option of giving him a roaming option and targeting the smaller men in the defensive line.
Taumalolo was particularly savage publicly when asked by the media about his form at times last year and it should result in a huge year for the Cowboys wrecking ball.
JAKE GRANVILLE (HOK, $414,100)
2018 average: 44.3
The 29-year-old's biggest weapon is his running game and by his own admission, it went missing at times last year.
There was certainly reasons for it with the Cowboys lacking a genuine back-up dummy half to play big minutes and take the pressure off Granville.
It's hard to be explosive when you're spending more time on the field as a result, and conserving energy would have been in the back of Granville's mind.
But the recruitment of experienced bench utility Kurt Baptiste should take a big load off Granville's shoulders, and afford him the luxury of being more explosive out of dummy half.
BEN BARBA (FLB, $467,300)
2018 average: N/A
Barba is somewhat of an unknown quantity given he played in the English Super League last year, but as one of the cheaper guaranteed starting fullbacks in SuperCoach he's surely worth the punt.
Signed to just a one year deal after winning the Super League's Man of Steel with St Helens, Barba has all the motivation in the world to prove he's still up to being one of the most devastating players in the NRL.
The 29-year-old scored 16 tries in 27 games in helping Cronulla to its maiden premiership in 2016, and reproducing anything resembling that form will ensure he will be one of the bargains of the SuperCoach season.
He should also registers his fair share of try assists as a welcome ball playing option to take pressure off Morgan.
KURT BAPTISTE (HOK, $196,900)
2018 average: 9.4
His scoring average last year is obviously nothing to write home about, but Baptiste had little opportunities behind an 80-minute hooker in Roosters skipper Jake Friend last year.
He's seemingly locked in a battle with Ben Hampton for the bench utility role, but the fact he's a specialist hooker should give him the edge.
Baptiste has been plagued by untimely injuries over the last few years just as he looked to be gaining momentum, but showed what he's capable of in 2016 at Canberra when he provided great impact off the bench in their run to the preliminary finals.
JUSTIN O'NEILL (CTW, $336,000)
2018 scoring average: 35.9
The former Maroon and Kangaroos faces a battle to retain his first grade spot after he was dumped to Queensland Cup for a handful of matches last year.
He scored only two tries in 21 first grade games in 2018, a worryingly slim return for an outside back of his experience and ability.
The 27-year-old took up an option in his favour to stay in Townsville this year, and will be motivated to prove he deserves another deal.
However with the likes of Enari Tuala, fellow Junior Kangaroo Murray Taulagi and even Ben Hampton, who starred in his brief cameo at centre last year, there's plenty of competition for the no.3 and no.4 jerseys.
ETHAN LOWE (2RF, $287,600)
2018 scoring average: 30.7
Like O'Neill, has taken up an option in his favour for this season after dropping down the pecking order last year.
He played just 15 NRL games last year, spending much of his campaign with Northern Pride in the Queensland Cup.
The return from injury of star props Jordan McLean and Matt Scott, plus the recruitment of McGuire, makes Lowe's task of breaking back into the first grade squad even more difficult.
The 27-year-old remains a quality player who will help improve the squad's depth, and be particularly handy when the gruelling representative period rolls around.