Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
The North Queensland Cowboys have finished in the bottom four every year since 2018 and heading into 2021 things do not look like they will go much better.
Yes, the Cowboys have recruited a new head coach in Todd Payten who nearly took the Warriors to the finals in 2020, but it’s unfair to rate Payten as a coach based on 2020.
Payten took over the head coaching role at New Zealand halfway through an unprecedented season, where the Warriors were based on the Central Coast.
Before judging his coaching credentials, we must wait and see how Payten can lead a team where he has been in charge since the beginning of the season, and in standard circumstances.
While things are once again looking bleak up north, there is one thing the Cowboys have going for them, their youth.
Over the past couple of seasons, we have seen the Cowboys start to blood some promising young talent that still has time to break out in the NRL.
Scott Drinkwater has earned himself the number one jersey at the Cowboys for 2021, and at 23-years-old still has room to improve.
The wait is almost over!
— NQ Cowboys (@nthqldcowboys) March 12, 2021
In attack he is a proven playmaker, notching up 19 try assists in 2020, meaning he can relieve some pressure from Clifford and Morgan by playing as somewhat of a third half in the same mould of a Latrell Mitchell.
He also always has a go in defence, attempting 296 tackles primarily as a half last season; however, he did miss 56, so that is something he will need to work on if he is to become a safe option at fullback for the Cowboys.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow began to make a name for himself in 2020 due to his speed and athletic ability at fullback, proving a viable alternative to Valentine Holmes in the role.
The “Hammer” will shift into the centres in 2021, taking the pressure off of him to an extent, allowing him to transition into a full-time NRL role more easily.
Reece Robson has been given the nod to start at hooker over premiership winner Jake Granville and fellow 22-year-old Reuben Cotter in 2021.
North Queensland utilised Robson in 14 of their 20 games last year both as a starter and off the bench, with Robson showing signs of promise in attack with seven-try involvements and 533 tackles made in defence.
If he can maintain that same form in attack and defence as a consistent starter this season, then Reece Robson will cement himself as one of the Cowboys’ best players.
Young players stepping up will not necessarily lead to a North Queensland finals push, but it will see the Cowboys improve significantly in 2021.