Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Ever since Johnathan Thurston’s retirement in 2018, the North Queensland Cowboys have predominantly been seen as a side full of younger players with potential and quality talent, but have yet to put it together and make a finals push.
Fans are hoping that 2021 is the year that this comes to fruition, but whether or not they do have a strong season, these are the five Cowboys games to watch this season.
ROUND 1 – PENRITH PANTHERS
North Queensland will have a huge test to begin their 2021 campaign as they face last season’s minor premiers the Penrith Panthers.
Penrith won relatively easily the last time the two clubs met late last year, and the Panthers are firm favourites headed into this one.
However, if the Cowboys can pull off a win against a powerhouse in the first round of the season, then they have set the foundation for what could be a very good season up north.
ROUND 3 – GOLD COAST TITANS
For the majority of the 2010s, North Queensland was consistently the best team in Queensland in terms of their end of season seeding, although in 2020 the Gold Coast Titans claimed this title, finishing ninth on the NRL ladder, while both the Cowboys and Broncos languished in the bottom four.
The last time they met, the Titans upset the Cowboys 30-10, in a game that can be seen as the moment the Titans ran away with the title of “best team in Queensland.”
It’s safe to say that North Queensland will be determined to get its revenge and possibly reclaim the Sunshine State.
Scott Drinkwater on splitting time between the halves and fullback in this Saturday's trial. #ridemcowboys
— NQ Cowboys (@nthqldcowboys) February 23, 2021
ROUND 5 – WESTS TIGERS
When looking at this fixture, the mind instantly goes back to the 2005 NRL Grand Final, where the Wests Tigers would defeat the North Queensland Cowboys 30-16 in a historic encounter, and ever since there has always been some extra tension when the two clubs meet.
Another reason why this game makes the list is where it’s being played, as in round five of the 2021 NRL season the Tigers will face the Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval for the third time in four years.
There will be plenty of Tigers fans in attendance at one of the game’s most sacred grounds.
Hopefully, this becomes an annual fixture that adds fuel to the fire of the Tigers versus Cowboys rivalry.
ROUND 9 – BRISBANE BRONCOS
An easy addition to this list, the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys rivalry is still clearly the biggest in the modern game, despite the drop in form of both clubs over the past 12 months.
Since the 2015 NRL Grand Final, this fixture has consistently represented what club rivalries in the National Rugby League should be about, boasting full crowds and an entertaining on-field product.
ROUND 14 – MANLY WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES
Most punters have the Cowboys and Sea Eagles placed towards the bottom of the ladder in 2021, but in the fight to escape the bottom four.
Following North Queensland’s Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm in 2017, the Cowboys looked to take their game to the next level but ended up finishing in the bottom four every year since.
The boys from Townsville’s primary objective this season must be to not finish in the bottom four, and their game against Manly could end up being a bottom four decider.