Jake Clifford of the Cowboys (right) reacts following a Tigers try during the Round 6 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Jake Clifford of the Cowboys (right) reacts following a Tigers try during the Round 6 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, June 20, 2020. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Where it’s gone wrong for lagging Cowboys

IT'S hard to believe over half the season has already past, but with only nine rounds to go before finals we weigh up the Cowboys season so far.

WHEN the coaching axe falls on a premiership-winning mentor mid-season, it is safe to say the club is not travelling well.

In a year that had so much promise for the Cowboys with the opening of the $293.5 million Queensland Country Bank Stadium, the arrival of multimillion-dollar superstar Valentine Holmes and a second pre-season Nines title - it is unbelievable to see the side languishing at 12th at the halfway point of the season.

And following the exit of Paul Green last week, it will take something mighty to turn it around.

Isaah Yeo of the Panthers is tackled by Josh McGuire and Coen Hess of the Cowboys during the round 10 NRL clash at Panthers Stadium. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Isaah Yeo of the Panthers is tackled by Josh McGuire and Coen Hess of the Cowboys during the round 10 NRL clash at Panthers Stadium. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

There was troubling signs early on in the year when the Broncos led an ambush on the newly-minted stadium in the opening round. But the turnaround in performance against the Bulldogs the following week sparked the fire of hope for Cowboys fans.

There was a belief that the Cowboys could shake the dread of back-to-back horror seasons, and return to the heroics of the 2017 grand final campaign.

Cowboys coach Paul Green parted ways with the club last week after he was told he would not take the reins next season. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Cowboys coach Paul Green parted ways with the club last week after he was told he would not take the reins next season. Picture: Alix Sweeney

But that has been far from fruition - with key injuries again taking their toll on the club and a lack of resilience in defence proving worrying signs for Green. and his men.

The long-term absence of experienced heads Michael Morgan (shoulder), John Asiata (knee) and Jordan McLean (calf) have left the Cowboys searching for answers.

Jason Taumalolo has continued to stomp his way through the competition this season. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Jason Taumalolo has continued to stomp his way through the competition this season. Picture: Alix Sweeney

In the only positive for the Cowboys, Tongan wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo has only strengthened his claim as the most consistent man in the NRL racking up metres for fun every round. Taumalolo is the only forward across the NRL to average more than 200 metres a game and racked up an NRL-era record in Round 2 with a Terminator-like performance against the Bulldogs.

The Cowboys were ambushed by a physical Broncos in the opening round including a strong performance from prop Payne Haas. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
The Cowboys were ambushed by a physical Broncos in the opening round including a strong performance from prop Payne Haas. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

He has not shied away from the workload even after taking up the captaincy in the absence of most of the club's leadership group, but his humble and quiet nature on the field could be hampering the Cowboys when they don't have the ball.

At least he has Josh McGuire in his corner - with the veteran forward not short of a few choice words this season. He was recently voted the NRL's biggest sledger in a player poll, but it is the words he has had for his own teammates that have seared the hottest this season.

Interim coach Josh Hannay has inherited a side with plenty of unrealised potential, and Cowboys bosses will hope he can find the answers to their problems and quickly.

They are still within finals calculations, purely on a point's basis, but accounting for their recent form there is plenty to be made up.

The Good

They are the best the Sunshine State has to offer.

On a serious note, it is hard to go past the youth that have been blooded through the Cowboys ranks this season.

Only 12 months ago, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was a name barely mentioned any further south than Bowen but the young Cairns' product has already shown an unbridled potential in the top flight.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Cowboys breaks through the defence of Dylan Edwards of the Panthers to score a try during the round 10 clash at Panthers Stadium. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Cowboys breaks through the defence of Dylan Edwards of the Panthers to score a try during the round 10 clash at Panthers Stadium. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

He was the story of the NRL Nines in Perth and when thrown an NRL debut against the Warriors earlier this year, he took it with both hands. Even a midgame shift to fullback for the injured Valentine Holmes could not deter the teenager's enthusiasm.

But the buck does not stop with 'The Hammer', with Connelly Lemuelu, Tom Gilbert and Daejarn Asi all impressing since making their NRL debuts this season.

An ankle injury to Valentine Holmes opened the door for young footballers to get their starts including Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Daejarn Asi. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
An ankle injury to Valentine Holmes opened the door for young footballers to get their starts including Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Daejarn Asi. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Jake Clifford has also shown his own potential to lead the side stepping up for injured skipper Michael Morgan and vastly improving his kicking game, while Scott Drinkwater has the ability to break open the game with his fleet footwork and heads up play style.

The Bad

The Cowboys edge defence has been that bad at times this season, it would be offensive to turnstiles to label it that way.

It has led to a raft of changes across the backline with the side yet to settle on their long term combinations on the edges.

Jordan McLean has spent much of the 2020 NRL season watching on from the sidelines with a recurring calf injury keeping the high-paid forward off the field. His absence has caused plenty of reshuffles and struggles in defence. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Jordan McLean has spent much of the 2020 NRL season watching on from the sidelines with a recurring calf injury keeping the high-paid forward off the field. His absence has caused plenty of reshuffles and struggles in defence. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Whether it is communication or commitment problems, the Cowboys have offered little resistance to their opponents conceding more than 27 points per game this season - only the Broncos (29.1) and Titans (28.7) concede more.

But it is the Cowboy's capacity to switch off after the half time break that has hurt them the most conceding 15.6 points on average in the second half - the worst in the NRL. The Cowboys have not found a way to come from behind yet this season, losing every game when they are down at the break.

 

Final Report

Grade: D-

Record: 3-8 (-82)

Ladder Position: 12th

Predicted Finish: 12th

Run to the Finals: Raiders (H), Titans (A), Rabbitohs (H), Knights (A), Sharks (A), Dragons (H), Storm (A), Panthers (H), Broncos (A)

Originally published as Where it's gone wrong for lagging Cowboys



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