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Here is all you need to know about the North Queensland Cowboys ahead of the 2022 Telstra Premiership season.

The Lowdown

Overview

The Cowboys are in a rebuilding phase under coach Todd Payten with Jason Taumalolo among just four survivors from the club's 2017 grand final team and of the others Ben Hampton and Jake Granville no longer demand a starting position. North Queensland have failed to make the finals since then and last season had the worst defensive record in the NRL but Payten also blooded six debutants who all showed promise and he lured highly rated 20-year-old playmaker Tom Dearden from Brisbane. The Cowboys will field one of the youngest teams in the Telstra Premiership this year, with 16 of their top 30 squad aged 23 or younger. Payten will be looking for them to develop quickly with Taumalolo, Hess, Valentine Holmes and Chad Townsend needing to provide leadership. 

Possible best 17

1. Scott Drinkwater, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Peta Hiku, 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Tom Dearden, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Coen Hess, 9. Reece Robson, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Tom Gilbert, 12. Heilum Luki, 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Jake Granville, 15. Jeremiah Nanai, 16. Lachlan Burr, 17. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown.

Townsend: 'There's some great young talent at the Cowboys'

Key changes

Payten has added experience in key positions with the signings of Kiwis back Peta Hiku and former Warriors and Sharks playmaker Chad Townsend. Prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is the Cowboys' only other new recruit but the club has a wealth of young talent coming through the ranks, particularly in the forwards where the likes of Tom Gilbert, Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai, Griffin Neame, Ben Condon, Connelly Lemuelu and Riley Price will be vying for spots. The main losses are Queensland Origin forward Francis Molo (Dragons) and former Maroons centre Justin O'Neill (retired).

Inside Cowboys training camp

Health check

Townsend revealed before Christmas that the shoulder injury which disrupted his mid-season move to the Warriors was still troubling him but he is expected to be fit for the trials. Townsend suffered the injury in his first match for the Warriors in round 16 and managed just four more appearances as he had to nurse his shoulder until the end of the season. Tabuai-Fidow tore his hamstring outrunning Manly speedster Jason Saab to score in North Queensland's last game of 2021 but he should also be ready to play in the trials, along with Rueben Cotter (shoulder), Hampton (hamstring) and Kane Bradley (hand). 

Biggest question mark

The Cowboys have speed and strike out wide but have lacked a controlling playmaker since Johnathan Thurston retired and Michael Morgan was plagued by injuries which prematurely ended his career. Dearden is a talented young playmaker but Chad Townsend will have the responsibility of directing the team around and managing games. Having Thurston on the coaching staff is a boost for the Cowboys. Payten has a host of good young forwards but they will be looking to Taumalolo to lead the way after an injury hit 2021 season. 

Opening month

The Cowboys start off with three home games in the opening month and don't leave Queensland until round six. The Bulldogs, Raiders, Broncos and Roosters provide Todd Payten's men with an opportunity to chalk up some early wins and it's imperative they take that chance.

Toughest stretch

The Cowboys get four top-eight sides in a five-game stretch from round 11, starting with last year's minor premiers Melbourne at home and premiers Penrith away with trips to face the Titans then Manly soon after.

Trust in Todd: Hiku reveals Payten a major drawcard

Make it count

In the six games from rounds five to 10, the Cowboys face five sides that finished seventh or lower, including three of last year's bottom eight. The Eels in Darwin and Raiders in Canberra are both tricky prospects but games in Queensland against the Warriors, Knights, Titans and Tigers offer chances to chalk up a few early-season wins.

NRL Fantasy: Cowboys 2022 prices

Jason Taumalolo: MID, $620,000
Reece Robson: HOK, $605,000
Mitchell Dunn: EDG, $547,000
Chad Townsend: HLF, $532,000
Scott Drinkwater: HLF/WFB, $527,000
Valentine Holmes: WFB, $526,000
Tom Dearden: HLF, $524,000
Reuben Cotter: HOK/MID, $500,000
Jordan McLean: MID, $489,000
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow: WFB/CTR, $470,000
Lachlan Burr: MID, $461,000
Tom Gilbert: MID/EDG, $458,000
Kyle Feldt: WFB, $441,000
Coen Hess: EDG/MID, $439,000
Heilum Luki: EDG, $439,000
Ben Hampton: CTR/HLF, $408,000
Griffin Neame: MID, $400,000
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown: MID, $377,000
Connelly Lemuelu: WFB/CTR, $372,000
Kane Bradley: WFB, $370,000
Peta Hiku: CTR, $369,000
Murray Taulagi: CTR/WFB, $361,000
Jeremiah Nanai: EDG, $350,000
Ben Condon: EDG, $329,000
Daejarn Asi: WFB/CTR, $300,000
Jake Granville: HOK, $272,000
Laitia Moceidreke: WFB, $240,000
Emry Pere: MID, $240,000