Contenders: Front row
We're profiling the contenders for each position within the club's ranks for the 2014 NRL season – here are head coach Paul Green’s chief options for the front row, where the Cowboys currently have the Kangaroos’ two starting props in their ranks.
The co-captain is coming off his second Paul Bowman Medal win as Cowboy of the Year and playing a leading role in Australia’s Rugby League World Cup victory where he was outstanding in the final against the Kiwis at Old Trafford.
Once again, he'll be the man the Cowboys look to as their forward leader, carting the ball forward with little regard for opposition defences or his own body.
When the Cowboys need metres, Scott delivers.
In 19 of 22 NRL games in 2013, he ran for more than 100 metres and it probably would have been 20 of 22 if he hadn’t had his finger broken in two places in round 25 against Cronulla.
Throw in 24.1 tackles per game and you see why he’s an automatic selection.
The giant front-rower has been critical of his form in 2013 and is determined to make more of a mark for his club team this year.
Although last year wasn’t as spectacular as 2012, he’s probably being a little bit harsh on himself because his statistics from last year stack up with the best forwards in the competition.
With 146.2 metres per game, he was No.1 for North Queensland and No.2 among all forwards in the NRL.
In 13 games, he ran for more than 150 metres which is the benchmark for an outstanding game by a forward.
The biggest changes were in his number of tackle busts (85 down to 37) and offloads (35 down to 11) and that’s where he’ll be looking for improvements in 2014.
Now with more than 200 games worth of NRL experience in the bank, Sims has been the No.1 back-up man to the two Test props since coming to the Cowboys three seasons ago.
Of his appearances last year, 15 out of 17 were off the bench and his two starts came when the usual starting combination had State of Origin duties.
Sims didn’t let his teammates down when he was promoted, averaging just under 100 metres and 28 tackles in those two starts.
One of the Cowboys' most passionate squad members, Sims is renowned for the enthusiasm he provides off the bench and his confidence is up following a strong showing for Fiji in the World Cup, where he helped guide the Bati to the semi-finals, playing almost 15 minutes per game more than he usually does for his club.
Like all Cowboys players in 2014, Sims will be waiting to see what plans new coach Paul Green has in store for him this season – his 12th in the top grade.
After making his name at the Cowboys as a free-running edge back-rower running off Johnathan Thurston on the left side of his team’s attack, Bolton has spent more time in the middle of the park in the past two seasons.
In 2013, when his 18 games took him past a career tally of 100 for North Queensland, he ran for more than 100 metres in 10 outings, highlighted by 182 metres, to go with 26 tackles, in the round six victory over Penrith.
His average of 104.6 metres per game was the third-highest for NQ behind Scott and Tamou.
Like Ashton Sims, he was a starter during the representative season and also took over from Scott in round 26 when the Cowboy of the Year was sidelined with a broken finger.
It was a much reduced role as far as NRL football goes for Thorby in 2013 and he’ll be one of the players desperate to show the new coaching staff that he deserves more of a run in North Queensland’s top squad.
He played just eight matches last year – starting once - compared to 15 games, with two starting appearances, in season 2012.
With every week of every NRL season full of unknowns about availability due to injury, form and representative commitments, he’ll keep himself ready for action if he doesn’t get the selection nod straight away.
If he gets his chance, Thorby will want to prove he’s worthy of a more regular NRL job.
Now in his third year out of the NYC under-20 ranks, Hoare is closer than ever to stepping up to NRL football.
Young front-rowers almost always take some time to develop and the Rockhampton product has been doing just that with the Mackay Cutters, playing 40 Intrust Super Cup matches in the last two years and earning selection in the Queensland Residents team last season.
With two Test representatives to train alongside, he’s getting a great education in what it takes to reach the top as a front-rower in the NRL.
It would be a huge ask to expect a front-rower still eligible for the under-20s competition to make it into the NRL before he leaves his teenage years, but with the youngest of the Kaufusi brothers, you just never know.
He was clearly the Cowboys’ best forward in the NYC in 2013, with his average of 110.8 metres per game almost 20 metres better than any other NQ forward, and he caught the eye of Queensland’s representative selectors who gave him a Maroons' Junior Origin jersey.
In one five-game stretch, he picked up 154m, 143m, 165m, 141m and 155m as the Cowboys surged from the bottom of the ladder to just outside the top eight.
Although still eligible for the under-20s, he is now part of the full-time NRL squad and may start the year off in the Intrust Super Cup to help speed up his progression.