Cowboys Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston

NRL season preview: North Queensland Cowboys

Gather around children, it's time for the men from North Queensland to share a fairytale with you.

One that ends with the great Johnathan Thurston landing his third premiership in his final year in the NRL.

With the roster the Cowboys have at their disposal, it is going to take a might effort from the rest of the competition to prevent this fairytale.

And this is a club that is becoming increasingly adept at writing them. While they fell at the final hurdle, the Cowboys giant-slaying run to the 2017 grand final was the stuff of legends - largely because they did it without Thurston and Matt Scott.

Those two players return and are joined by former Melbourne Storm prop Jordan McClean who slots into a formidable pack that also includes wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo.

The Cowboys could even have the luxury of Todd Carney in their reserves, if the NRL lets him play ball.

North Queensland runs deep in every position, has emotion keeping them tall in the saddle and the strength and strike to go all the way in 2018.

The key player for the Cowboys

Ever since 2005, the Cowboys have been forced to fend off claims they are a one man band in Johnathan Thurston.

For the most part, those claims have been somewhat correct. The club tends to lose much more than they win when their talisman is absent.

But in Micheal Morgan, the Cowboys have unearthed another superstar. That was proven in the run to the 2017 grand final, which saw Morgan selected for the Kangaroos in their World Cup tilt as well.

The local product has been handed a massive five-year deal in a bid to make him a Cowboy for life.

Thurston will still play a critical role this season, but is unlikely to play every match given his age and injuries.

When he is absent, the Cowboys can rest assured they have plenty of firepower in the tank with Morgan steering the ship.

Needs to lift

It's hard to see any real chinks in the North Queensland armour, but prolific try-scorer Antonio Winterstein is starting to show signs of age.

Leg injuries took the pace of the winger's run in 2017 and cost him a swag of games as well.

In the charge to the grand final, there were points where Winterstein couldn't even jump off the ground he was in that much pain.

With young guns Gideon Gela-Mosby and Enari Tuala waiting in the wings for their opportunity, Winterstein will be hoping for a clean bill of health and for his speed of old to return.

The x-factor

Monster forward Coen Hess had a year to remember in 2017. He was plucked from the clouds to play for Queensland in (another) Origin series win and then played a key role in the charge to the decider with Matt Scott missing through injury.

The scary thing is that Hess has only just turned 21. There is so much room for development and growth for this already mountain-sized youngster from Bundaberg. 

It will a spectacle to watch just how good he will get.

Ins: Carlin Anderson, Jordan McLean, Francis Molo

Outs: Kalyn Ponga, Ray Thompson, Patrick Kaufusi, Braden Uele, Patrick Mago

Predicted finish: 1st

About the Author Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a hack with over 12 years industry experience, covering sport across all codes for newspapers and online agencies. Known to frequent grade matches because of their cheap tinnies. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in sitting on the hill when the local cricket side was playing. Softball premiership winner, rugby league legend in Year 10 and no stranger to Doomben Racecourse.

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