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NRL 2023: North Queensland Cowboys season preview

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After surprising footy fans by reaching the preliminary finals last season, there is plenty for the Cowboys to be optimistic about in 2023.

Expectations will be higher, but coach Todd Payten has proven that he can get the best out of a side.

With competition also set to be stiff at the top end of the ladder, can the Cowboys go one step further this year?

The Sporting News previews the Cowboys’ upcoming season below, including their best 17, the key to their success and predicted finish for 2023.



1 Scott Drinkwater
2 Murray Taulagi
3 Peta Hiku
4 Valentine Holmes
5 Kyle Feldt
6 Tom Dearden
7 Chad Townsend
8 Jordan McLean
9 Reece Robson
10 Reuben Cotter
11 Jeremiah Nanai
12 Coen Hess
13 Jason Taumalolo
14 Jake Granville
15 James Tamou
16 Griffin Neame
17 Mitch Dunn


GAINS: Tom Chester, Tom Duffy, Jack Gosiewski, Jordan Lipp, Riley Price, Gehamat Shibasaki, James Tamou

LOSSES: Daejarn Asi, Ben Condon, Tom Gilbert, Connelly Lemuelu, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow


The Cowboys have filled up their entire top 30 squad for the upcoming season, adding some talent to their roster following some notable departures.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s move to the Dolphins is a blow, but the starting outside back line-up is still strong. Valentine Holmes brings Origin-level experience in the centres, whilst Murray Taulagi is a capable replacement on the wing for ‘The Hammer’. 

At fullback, the quietly consistent Scott Drinkwater will keep the No. 1 jersey, with Holmes a quality replacement. If there is an injury, however, that could leave their outside backs very thin, and reliant on unproven youngsters.

Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend will again provide a balance of youth and experience in the halves, in what proved to be a winning combo last season. Depth is a slight concern, though, with Ben Hampton and an unproven Jake Bourke seemingly next in line at No. 6 and 7. 

As for their forward pack, the Cowboys have an abundance of talent. Reuben Cotter will lead the props, Jeremiah Nanai is set to continue to develop as a top second-rower, and Jason Taumalolo will likely remain a force at lock. With the likes of Mitch Dunn and Griffin Neame moving onto the bench along with new recruit James Tamou, the departures of Tom Gilbert and Connelly Lemuelu should not have too much of an impact.

Finally, the hooker position will be served by Reece Robson, with the capable veteran Jake Granville a strong option off the bench. 

STRENGTHS: Second row, lock

WEAKNESSES: Outside backs

RATING: 7/10


Chad Townsend was a revelation for the Cowboys last season, and he will be key again this year.

The veteran halfback not only brings experience and a sense of calmness to the halves but also sets the tone for the rest of the team with his attitude.

He is the perfect representation of the team culture that coach Todd Payten has promoted at the club.

The Cowboys won a number of games last year by simply out-working a number of top teams, so Townsend’s mindset and leadership will be crucial in ensuring they have the motivation to go again in 2023.


Coming off the back of a breakout 2022 campaign in the QLD Cup for the Blackhawks, Riley Price could be set to make an impact for the Cowboys this season.

Playing at mostly lock or prop, the 21-year-old averaged 93 run metres and 26 tackles per game in his 16 reserve grade matches last year. 

Importantly, he also possesses the right attitude and tenacity required to play under coach Todd Payten.

Having been promoted to the top 30 squad with one year remaining on his contract, this is the season for Price to make his mark.

MORE: NRL 2023 – Every club’s rookie to watch


Rounds 13-17: Eels [A], Storm [H], BYE, Panthers [H], Rabbitohs [A]

The Cowboys will face a demanding run of games in the middle of the season, beginning with a trip to the 2022 grand finalists the Parramatta Eels. Brad Arthur’s side have lost a number of key players, but CommBank Stadium is never an easy place to play.

They will then look to replicate last year’s stunning win over Melbourne when the Storm head up north.

A bye will follow before the Cowboys host the reigning premiers the Panthers, followed by an away match against the Rabbitohs.

It is also worth noting that these games will take place during the Origin period, so there could be significant losses to the Cowboys’ side and their opponents.


There is little to suggest that the Cowboys will fall off this season following an impressive 2022 campaign.

This time around, however, they will be the hunted, rather than the hunters.

Tabuai-Fidow’s departure is significant, but it’s not as if there is a giant hole left in their team now.

Not only is their starting line-up strong, but they have a bench and reserve pool capable of playing top footy. 

Last year’s finals run will also likely serve them well this time around – both in the regular season and the finals themselves.

Credit: sportingnews.com

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