A Shallow Dive into the 2022 North Queensland Cowboys

Your men’s North Queensland Cowboys finished the 2022 NRL season in third place. The Cowboys managed a 17-7 record with a points difference of +272. Their Pythagorean expectation was even higher at 17.8 wins. Scoring 26.4 points per game, the 2022 North Queenslanders had the second best attack in franchise history (behind only 2005) and fourth best in the league (three total points off second). Similarly, conceding a mere 15.0 points per game, the same side has the second best defence in Cowboys history (behind only 2016) and the second best in the league. The Cowboys in 2022 had the best points difference per game in their history, nearly two points per game better than the next best in 2016. I don’t think it would be particularly controversial to declare this the best Cowboys side ever without Johnathan Thurston.

North Queensland will join the NRLW next year.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

This is the fifth deep dive season preview I’ve done and each year the squad has looked good on paper and the Cowboys have yet to finish above thirteenth place. Paul Green is gone, the legacy of the premiership might be enough to cover some blemishes but it was long enough ago now that there are new young Cowboys fans that weren’t alive in 2015…

Worringly, the club made no moves in the off-season other than to recruit the aforementioned Townsend, Peta Hiku, rescuing Brendan Elliot from the relegated Leigh and former Norths Devil Jamayne Taunoa-Brown. That’s it. That list isn’t abbreviated for clarity, those are the four incoming players. Considering the club below the Cowboys on the ladder have turned over their entire roster and the club above them on the ladder at least made some decent marquee signings, what exactly do the Cowboys think they can achieve?

I refuse to feel bad for getting this so wrong because a) everyone got this wrong and b) fool me four or five times, shame on me, but fool me a sixth, fuck you.

What happened

Here’s a thread:

And here’s what happened:

And the Cowboys too lost the preliminary final. The Cowboys probably should have won that game and in fact were about twenty minutes away from doing so. While that may be disappointing, especially after such a hard fought win in week one to secure a massive home ground advantage for week three, this is a team that was playing with house money from mid-July.

I think there’s an interesting demonstration of the non-linearity of rugby league results in the Cowboys season. Some small tweaks, a Townsend here and an emergent Origin-calibre talent there, the game and Taumalolo reaching a mutual agreement where he can return to his pre-pandemic form as one of the best in the game, a couple extra percentage points, and all of a sudden, Payten’s system falls into place. I’m not convinced that it’s even worth crunching any numbers to prove that, yes, every single aspect of the Cowboys game improved dramatically off the back of a handful of changes, it’s that obvious.

For the Cowboys to go from cellar to contender in the space of a few months should be embarrassing for most of the NRL. How can the bottom half clubs, ranging from the Broncos to the Tigers, make it all look so goddamn hard? Todd Payten, a man I would’ve said would be on the ropes right now at the start of the year, has bought himself at least two more years to get it right.

There’s always next year

With the Cowboys’ pathways, lack of media attention and current setup, they’ve got the ingredients to be successful again. Rebuild complete.

/smash cut to the Cowboys finishing 2023 in 12th place

Fuck’s sake.

How about we wait and see this time?