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After defying expectations last year with their preliminary finals appearance, the North Queensland Cowboys will have to contend with the unfamiliar feeling of being a hunted team this season.

A breakthrough season from their young talents – including Rookie of the Year Jeremiah Nanai – saw the team go within one game of making the grand final, but there is no chance of teams taking the side lightly this year.

“We've spoken about that (being hunted), because we played pretty well last year,” star centre Valentine Holmes told media follow his side’s Pre-Season Challenge loss to Brisbane Broncos.

“We pretty much have got the same team; we have got a couple new faces to the team who have been really good for us and played well today, and we just played the same way we did last year.

“We don't really have to change much.”

However, Holmes - who scored a try and kicked three from three conversions in the 20-18 loss - said the side still have plenty of improvement in them and would be able to go to another level, with a few new faces still to get familiar with how the team plays.

“If we all stay on the pitch, we'll get to know the way we all play,” Holmes said.

“We’ve got a lot of talented edges, Miah, we have got Hessy [Coen Hess] back on our left edge, so once we find out how everyone likes the ball and likes how to play, I feel the sky is the limit for us.”

Like Holmes, who was looking to the future, coach Todd Payten was also intent on keeping the focus on getting the most out of his team this year, and wasn’t too concerned with trying to manage the expectations from outside his squad.

“From my point of view, last year is done and dusted,” Payten said.

“We’ve just got to start again. We didn’t really care about what was said outside of our group (last year) and I don’t think that is going to change.

“I am worried about what is said within our own four walls and out on the training pitch.”

On his own game, Holmes said there was more he could do to up his game this season as well, with goal-setting a big part of his focus.

“I always try and tell myself I'm going be the best centre on the field, no matter who I'm playing against, even with my own teammates, with Pet, I am a competitive person and I want to be the best centre out there on the field, that’s just my goal and I set that for myself.

“Defensively, that’s the second thing I focus on … as an edge, myself, Muz [Murray Taulagi] and Tommy [Dearden], we try and be as a solid edge out there and that's something we focused on in pre-season and I think we need to be pretty solid this year."

The Cowboys will host Canberra Raiders in Round 1, with Holmes saying the match against the Broncos was good preparation for their opening clash. 

“Obviously, leaking a few points like that off kicks is not what we want so, that’ll probably be our main focus I’d say leading into Canberra, because they are a similar team that play a similar way to how the Broncos played," Holmes said. 

“They have big forwards and they have got strong outside backs to I'm sure we'll be expecting a similar game to that."

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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