The Cowboys suffer another NRL loss

Why the Cowboys are failing in the 2018 NRL season

There are always big shocks in an NRL season, but one of the biggest jaw-droppers in recent years has been the decline of the North Queensland Cowboys in 2018.

All the ingredients were supposed to be there for a fairytale NRL premiership. This squad made a grand final in 2017 without Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and with a host of other players sidelined or playing busted.

Jordan Mclean was recruited to add starch, the big guns were back in the saddle, who could stop the Cowboys from marching their way to a premiership in Thurston's final season?

Instead, the men from North Queensland are staring down the barrel. They have just two wins from eight starts to show for their efforts, have struggled to score points and look incohesive and easily fatigued.

The Cowboys sit in the cellar with the likes of Parramatta and Manly. So how has this all gone so horribly wrong?

The World Cup hangover is real for the Cowboys

Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo

Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo in action for Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup

The 2017 season was a marathon. The Cowboys played the entire regular season, were heavily represented in State of Origin and played the entire final series as well.

Then came the World Cup, where the likes of Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo were asked to dig even deeper. The result is both of their returns are down.

Arguably, Taumalolo is still tossing up numbers that suggest he is still the best forward in the game. But his metres lack the terror they once did, he is not busting through packs, dishing offloads and crashing over the tryline.

Morgan missed the start of the season with an abdominal strain, and since he has returned his form has been alarmingly down. In 2017 he was a Queensland and Australian representative, on current form he is no chance of retaining those jerseys.

That is two of the Cowboys best that are not performing to the level they should be, and the World Cup has to have played at least a small role in that.

Age has wearied the Cowboys

Father time stops for no man. Brandy Alexander boldly declared what many were thinking, when he said that Thurston had perhaps played one season too many.

Matt Scott has had numerous errors in his game this season, errors that didn't exist when he was a younger man.

The Cowboys left edge of Justin O'Neill and Antonio Winterstein has lacked impact so badly that often the Cowboys won't even bother to shift the ball that way in attack - making them predictable.

Some hard calls may need to be made to inject some youth into this side. Because a side even half a yard down on pace in the NRL is susceptible to a shopping list of losses.

They are missing their most under-rated player

Cowboys centre Kane Linnett

The Cowboys have missed the work rate and defence of Kane Linnett

Kane Linnett. The unfashionable centre has never been in State of Origin conversations. His pay packet is probably more cask wine than caviar.

But here we are, playing without the tough as teak centre - who has a torn pectoral - and lamenting his absence.

He was never super flashy in attack, but his metres rucking the ball up from the danger end was often over-looked. The Cowboys struggle without his impact.

His defence was first class, and his replacement Javid Bowen couldn't even come close - ultimately resulting in his axing to reserve grade.

The loss of Linnett has created a huge hole in the Cowboys roster, which they have not been able to fill.

There is no obvious candidate for fullback

Former Cowboys fullback Kalyn Ponga

Kalyn Ponga (right) was a huge loss for the Cowboys

Kalyn Ponga was supposed to be the next big thing for the Cowboys, until the Newcastle Knights prised him loose with a pay cheque no one could match.

North Queensland still have Lachlan Coote, but his best days are clearly behind him and he spends more time injured than on the park.

When the hook came for him against Canberra in round eight, it showed his days are numbered. But who else can fill the breach?

Ben Hampton was a makeshift solution, Carlin Anderson has yet to make his NRL debut. Morgan can play the position well, but then you are robbing the team of a first choice half.

Todd Carney also played fullback for the Sydney Roosters, but a contract has yet to be ratified by the NRL. 

This is a major problem for the Cowboys, with no clear candidate in one of the most important positions on the field.

The Cowboys actually weren't very good in 2017, either

Let's be real. Cutting away all the emotion, the Cowboys weren't that great in 2017. 

Suffering from an injury crisis, North Queensland lost five out of their last six regular season matches. They only snuck into the finals because the Dragons choked against the Bulldogs in the final regular season match of the year.

Emotion, passion and pride allowed them to play their best three games of the year to reach the grand final. But that is not an indicator of a team that has played well all year.

Parramatta enjoyed a similar run to the decider in 2009. In 2010, the Eels finished 12th. In 2011, the Warriors surged to the grand final, but crashed to 14th position the next year.

These runs are exciting, but they are not the stuff that dynasties are built on. Unfortunately, the Cowboys seem to be treading the same ground that Parramatta and New Zealand walked before them.

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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