The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys officially wrap up their 2016 season with the staging of the club’s annual Presentation Ball on Friday night.
The evening will feature a host of end-of-season awards, including the Paul Bowman Medal for Cowboy of the Year.
We run the rule over some of the contenders in four major award categories.
MOST IMPROVED COWBOY
Jason Taumalolo: From high-impact ball-runner to genuine NRL superstar – culminating in a maiden Dally M medal, this destructive young firebrand was coming off a high base heading into season 2016 but upped his effectiveness and output in a season to remember.
Ethan Lowe: After a breakout 2015, the no-nonsense back-rower was looking to become a true mainstay of the team’s engine room in 2016. From being named in the Maroons’ Emerging Origin squad in January, Lowe’s star continued to rise. He played in 25 of the Cowboys’ 27 games in 2016, scoring nine tries and being invited into the Maroons camp for Origin II.
Coen Hess: Last year’s Rookie of the Year continued his inevitable rise as a genuine NRL player, building on his solitary top grade game last year with a string of quality appearances in 2016. Hess now has eight NRL games to his credit and proved himself a genuine threat on the edges, the 20-year-old already up to five tries in his fledgling career.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Josh Chudleigh: The 22-year-old talented hooker seems to win major awards at whatever level he plays. In 2014, he was the Cowboys’ NYC Player of the Year. In 2015, playing for Cowboys feeder team the Mackay Cutters, he was named their Player of the Year, and this year he won the prestigious Courier-Mail Medal for Intrust Super Cup Player of the Year. This fine work at state league level led to an NRL debut in Round 18 against the Raiders in Canberra, with a try scored in his first NRL match.
Kalyn Ponga: The 18-year-old dynamo played most of the year in the Intrust Super Cup, but made a surprise NRL debut in the Cowboys’ epic week two extra-time elimination final win over the Broncos. Showing an abundance of talent and class in that match, the schoolboy footy star backed it up the following week in the preliminary final against the Sharks.
Javid Bowen: Having been part of the Cowboys’ NRL squad since 2015, and plying his trade in the NYC before that, the Hope Vale flyer is not new to the club, but 2016 was the 23-year-old’s breakout year. He made his NRL debut in the Cowboys’ 36-0 Round 5 win over the Dragons, scoring a try in front of his home fans. The talented outside back went on to play 10 games in 2016, scoring four tries.
NYC PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Brandon Smith: Time and again in 2016, the tough-as-nails hooker proved himself a talented footballer with a long future in the game. Fronting up for a second year in the Cowboys’ under-20s system, the Junior Kiwi enjoyed a watershed year for Aaron Payne’s young charges. He played in 24 of a possible 27 games, scored 18 tries and finished the year with the second-most line breaks in the NYC. He also stepped up as an on-field leader, filling in as captain several times during the year.
Kalyn Ponga: Before making his NRL debut deep in the season, the Cowboys’ under-20s whiz-kid enjoyed a stellar year in the NYC, scoring 12 tries and kicking 38 goals in 21 appearances.
Marcus Jensen: The Kingaroy product burst on to the NYC scene this year with a brilliant season on the wing. The 20-year-old finished the season as the NYC’s leading try-scorer, crossing the line 27 times in 25 games. A standout campaign with Aaron Payne’s under-20s team was rewarded with a spot in the Cowboys’ full-time NRL squad in 2017 and 2018.
PAUL BOWMAN MEDALLIST FOR COWBOY OF THE YEAR
Matt Scott: The tireless Cowboys co-captain again led from the front in 2016, combining a high work ethic, power running and doubtless leadership qualities and courage to have another consistent season, his 13th as a Cowboy. The 31-year-old prop averaged 126 running metres a game, made 22 tackles on average and produced a team-high 27 offloads – a highly effective output given the average 46 minutes of game time played.
Jason Taumalolo: By any measure, 23-year-old barnstorming lock Taumalolo had a watershed year in 2016. In his sixth year as an NRL Cowboy, the 113kg wrecking ball cut a swathe through opposition defensive lines, clocking up 160-plus running metres per game across 27 games, placing him atop the metre-eaters’ list in the NRL. He scored six tries and averaged an impressive 24 tackles and was one of only three players to run out for all 27 Cowboys games during the season.
Johnathan Thurston: The four-time Paul Bowman Medallist was again a beacon of consistency for the Cowboys in 2016, missing just three games – due to State of Origin commitments and injury – for the season and playing a leading or winning hand in a number of Cowboys victories. This included a match-winning field goal in Round 11 against the Broncos, and again versus the old foe with a sublime flick pass to teammate Michael Morgan to clinch a week two elimination final victory. In his 12th season in Cowboys colours, Thurston played in 24 games, scored two tries, kicked 96 goals and led the competition in try assists with 25.