With the regular season drawing to a close, places in the finals series are still up for grabs, but one team that won’t be progressing to the next stage are the North Queensland Cowboys. A forgettable campaign that leaves Paul Green’s team with just 6 wins from their first 22 games means that the side’s only remaining battle is to lift themselves off the foot of the table.
The 2019 season will be one of rebuilding and the Cowboys will have to do it all without their influential captain and most experienced player.
It’s tight at the top of the table with three teams locked on 32 points after those first 22 matches. Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs are battling for supremacy while the Dragons, the Panthers and the Sharks are all just a further two points behind the leading three.
The Storm and the Roosters are joint-favourites to win the regular season in bet365’s NRL betting markets and there’s plenty still to play for at the right end of the table. Meanwhile, North Queensland are cast adrift at the bottom with just 14 points and many Cowboys fans will be relieved when the campaign comes to an end.
The fact that Johnathan Thurston is even back on the field is an outstanding feat in itself and the 35-year-old has done his best to shore up this Cowboys unit during a difficult regular season (as widely as Thurston’s been criticised, few would notice that he remains first in the league for line break assists, and tied for first for try assists). North Queensland’s international back missed virtually the entire 2017 campaign and at his advancing years, a full recovery may have seemed unlikely.
Thurston admitted that his recovery from surgery last June had surprised his specialist but while the physical issues may have prompted his decision to retire, the player confirmed that the mental side of a tough season has reinforced his decision to call it a day.
The close nature of many of the Cowboy’s defeats is behind much of Thurston’s frustration. Seven of their losses have been by the narrow margins of seven points or less so there is a feeling that North Queensland should not be battling it out with the Eels for the wooden spoon.
Having reached the Grand Final twelve months ago, this season’s results mark an alarming slump for the Cowboys. North Queensland won the pennant in 2015 but now it seems the squad may be heading for that dreaded ‘period of transition’.
Inevitable questions will emerge over the role of Coach Paul Green but this is the same man who led the Cowboys to two Grand Finals within four years. After four years in charge, Green may make the decision himself and choose to take on a new challenge but it would seem unwise for North Queensland to go into 2019 without him.
As Johnathan Thurston alluded to, it’s been about fine margins this season and a few squad changes could turn things around next term. Unfortunately for Cowboys’ fans, Thurston’s confirmed retirement leaves one of the bigger holes in this North Queensland squad.