The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys open their 2023 campaign with a home clash against the Canberra Raiders at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday.
1. GO TIME
Five months after falling one game short of a grand final berth to end the 2022 season, Todd Payten’s men are set to launch into the new season. The Cowboys play three of their first four games at home, with a trip to Brisbane in Round 2 the sole away trip. All three of the home fixtures are in the unusual 4.30pm afternoon timeslots.
2. JIMMY’S BACK
Saturday’s game marks the return of Cowboys fan favourite James Tamou after six seasons away from the club. Tamou signed a one-year deal to move back to North Queensland and the 34-year-old has impressed in two trial game appearances. Despite not playing a game in Cowboys colours since 2016, Tamou sits 11th in club history with 170 appearances.
3. BACK TO THE OLD DAYS
His move to the middle of the field resulted in a career resurgence over the past two seasons, including a Paul Bowman Medal in 2021, but a second row shortage has forced Coen Hess to shift back to the second row to begin 2023. With Luciano Leilua, Heilum Luki and Jack Gosiewski all sidelined, Hess will start at second row for just the second time in almost two seasons.
4. ON A ROLL
North Queensland have faced Canberra the third most of any opponent since joining the premiership in 1995. What was once a lopsided affair in Canberra’s favour has evened out in recent seasons with the Cowboys winning four of the previous five encounters. North Queensland won both fixtures last season, including a 26-6 triumph in Round 2 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
5. DOUBLE THE FUN
Cowboys fans will have the opportunity to see the players on the cusp of NRL selection in action on Saturday, with Cowboys feeder clubs Townsville Blackhawks and Northern Pride to clash in a curtain raiser at 1.50pm.