Good Signings: The Cowboys backbone is sort of excellent

With the Finals over and the November 1 contract deadline handed, we will formally declare the NRL’s foolish season open.

Into the morass of gossip and conjecture, we’ll convey sanity, with the relaunch of Good Signings, our dissection of the place golf equipment are weak, what they should enhance and the place they may discover it. Anticipate stats, profiles and insights, with choices which might be obtainable and reasonable. Don’t anticipate rumours.

It was a troublesome time being a Cowboys fan in 2023. It’s the hope that kills you, in fact, and after an excellent 2022, the Townsville membership landed with a bump.

Todd Payten had been voted the Dally M Coach of the 12 months, and rightly so, given the best way he improved the defence and turned North Queensland into one of many hardest groups to beat within the comp.

Typically that got here on the expense of aptitude – which is what finally did for them within the finals – but it surely appeared like an incredible leaping off level going into 2023.

However, as all of a sudden as they’d risen, his aspect misplaced all the starch that made them so good within the first place. 

The opening half of the season noticed them go 6-8 earlier than their first bye, together with losses to the Bulldogs, Dolphins and Tigers, all of whom would find yourself nicely out of the Finals, with that defeat to Wests being a 66-18 humbling.

Issues did get higher by Origin, with a 5 sport win streak, but it surely all proved too little too late. 

By the top, it was pretty apparent to see the place issues had been going flawed – but in addition the place they may later go proper.

In 2022, they’d benefitted massively from a stage of management that Chad Townsend was capable of convey, and his brief kicking sport that unlocked Jeremiah Nanai to attain a ridiculous variety of tries for a backrower, loads of which had been assisted by his halfback.

In 2023, that stream dried up and with it went loads of their creativity. The Cowboys had been fourth for metres made, however eleventh for line breaks and twelfth for tackles inside 20m. 

They had been capable of get into place, however couldn’t breach defences and couldn’t builf stress. In assault, nowhere close to sufficient questions had been being requested.

It may be harsh to single Townsend out for this, however given his age and the efficiency of the opposite two inventive gamers within the backbone, it’s arduous to not see him as the difficulty.

For reference, his numbers on each key halfback metric outwith kicking path Brandon Wakeham, who performed for the worst assault within the comp and obtained ten fewer possessions per sport, too.

In reality, in case you put Townsend in a gaggle alongside a few of his friends by way of ladder place and sport time, it’s fairly damning. 

Lachlan Ilias, who most individuals assume had a foul season, is nicely forward in inventive metrics and matches nicely on attacking kicking with the identical variety of assists from 80 fewer makes an attempt.

Chad is only one of a number of Cowboys who can communicate to different golf equipment, and one suspects that he won’t be renewed past this 12 months. Veterans Kyle Feldt and Jake Granville are in an identical boat and James Tamou has already departed.

Additionally within the November 1 membership are Tom Dearden, whom they’ll definitely wish to prolong, as they’ll with Kulikefu Finefeauiaki, who impressed in his first 12 months. Helium Luki has a participant possibility past 2024 however can be in sizzling demand elsewhere.

Coen Hess, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Zac Laybutt and Semi Valemei, plus rated teenager Tom Chester, off the again of an ACL, and the returning Jake Clifford will all get an opportunity to show their case because the season happening.

The size of that checklist does current Payten with some scope for rejuvenation. Dropping the likes of Townsend, Feldt and Granville will do wonders for the wage cap and the age profile on the membership, as they’re the three of the 4 oldest on the checklist, with the prolonged Jordan McLean within the center.

It’s an fascinating scenario, as a result of as a lot as there are previous our bodies round – seven of their most common 17 in 2023 had been 30 or over – additionally they have a number of kids, with 9 underneath 24 and a core of rep-level gamers within the 25-30 bracket. 

Payten, then, can stick or twist. He is aware of that Dearden (22), hooker Reece Robson (25), lock Reuben Cotter (24) and fullback Scott Drinkwater (26) are long-term bets, but in addition skilled heads in his backbone, particularly if he continues with Jason Taumalolo as a pure center, as he did late final 12 months.

The choice may be so as to add a younger halfback who can develop with the group or a veteran to proceed the Townsend position, simply with extra oomph.

The choices obtainable give loads of scope for that. 

(Picture by Cameron Spencer/Getty Pictures)

Luke Keary, off contract on the Roosters in 2025, brings much more attacking upside and has confirmed his capacity to work each as an organising half and as a inventive outlet.

He’s 11 months youthful than Townsend and brings an identical quantity of expertise, however with way more willingness to have interaction the road and likelihood his arm, in addition to flexibility throughout each 6 and seven. 

A mix of the veteran halfback version of Keary and a run-first method from Dearden, with further backline magic from Drinkwater is definitely interesting.

On the different finish of the size, Toby Sexton simply snuck into the Good Signings pattern dimension with eight video games for the Bulldogs in 2023, and he profiles very similar to Townsend, however with higher inventive numbers and higher operating numbers, each accrued off far much less ball. 

His kicking was much less evident on the Canines given Matt Burton’s position because the specialist, however was among the many finest within the league on the Titans, particularly near the road.

Sexton remains to be solely 22 and, although he obtained an honest run on the finish of final 12 months after becoming a member of the Canines, has not been signed up previous 2024 and must struggle for his place. 

If Payten desires handy the keys over to Dearden and Drinkwater, he might discover a lot worse options as a gentle hand.

(Picture by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Pictures)

There’s a third possibility, too. St Helens halfback Lewis Dodd has been linked with a transfer to the NRL for a very long time, nicely earlier than kicking the sector aim that downed Penrith again in February, and is getting into his final 12 months.

He’s but to show 22 however has over 60 first grade appearances with a extremely dominant crew within the Tremendous League, from which he has constructed a stable physique of labor as a operating menace and a inventive presence.

Dodd has achieved a lot already in England and will kick on massively within the NRL, particularly if positioned in a backbone that’s already snug working collectively. 

Shopping for gamers at 21 from the Tremendous League is inherently dangerous, as few halves have made it, however Dodd is recognised as the most effective abilities of his technology within the UK and, normally, the youthful that gamers get to the NRL the higher. 

Sexton is a stable possibility for 22, with a low ceiling, excessive ground nature. Dodd may be the other. Once more, it’s all about what Payten and his recruitment crew assume this Cowboys crew wants.


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