NRL: Cowboys proof that clubs must constantly evolve in modern game

There has been plenty of discussion around the North Queensland Cowboys fall from grace in 2018.


It’s not very often we see clubs go from grand finalists one year to cellar dwellers the next, especially when you consider that the majority of their 2015 premiership-winning team are still contracted with the club.

In the salary cap era, it’s quite astonishing that the Cowboys have managed to keep this current team together for so many years. To put this into perspective, 12 players from their 2015 grand final team were named in their team for Round 1, 2018.

Usually after a premiership win, values go up and you would have other clubs looking to raid your roster. Credit must go to coach Paul Green and Football Manager Peter Parr on an amazing achievement in regards to their roster management and player retention.

So, why hasn’t this team, a team stacked with premiership players who come fresh of a grand final appearance, aimed up this season?

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Several rugby league commentators have given a few different opinions. Some have suggested the Cowboys continue to use the same playing structures from previous seasons and have become predictable. Others have suggested the playing squad has become too old and stale.

Or, perhaps it’s a bit of both. Not only have the Cowboys been utilising the same structures from previous seasons, but it’s also many of the same players executing those same structures and opposition teams are now picking them off quite comfortably.

The Cowboys woes have a similar pattern to that of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. If you cast your memories back to 2014, the Rabbitohs were almost unstoppable in their run to the premiership that season. But after a blistering start to their premiership defence in 2015, they too quickly became predictable as they limped into the finals, only to be knocked out in the first round.


They then missed the finals for the next two seasons with many of their premiership winning squad still part of their roster.

A high turnover in staff doesn’t work well for many regular businesses, but for NRL teams who have experienced success, perhaps a turnover of playing and coaching staff is required in order to stay fresh and unpredictable.

Let’s use the Melbourne Storm as an example. They’re a club that’s rarely become stale or predicable on the field. Based in a non-rugby league city which doesn’t produce local talent, they have always had a high turnover of players.

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With the exception of the big three (Cam Smith, Bill Slater and Cooper Cronk), the Storm have consistently achieved great success and have been considered the benchmark team for the past decade as a result of producing many different combinations in the forwards, outside backs and a number of different players used to partner Cronk in the halves.

This is a lesson for the Cowboys and other teams who will achieve success in the coming seasons. If you’re a team that achieves success, you become a team who is analysed a lot more closely, the strategic planning to combat your strengths and attack your weaknesses become a lot more intense and opposition players and teams find the extra motivation to challenge themselves against the best.

Eventually, it becomes a case of evolve or perish.


For the Rabbitohs, their success thus far in 2018 has been attributed to a new head coach and coaching staff. For the Cowboys, they already have an excellent head coach and coaching staff, perhaps an overhaul of their playing roster is required to rediscover a winning formula and to present a new challenge to opposition teams.

It’s a strange game, rugby league. If a team finishes near the bottom of the ladder, changes are required to find a winning formula. If a team wins a competition, changes are required to stay fresh and ahead of the pack.

This may also explain why we haven’t seen a club achieve back-to-back premiership since the Brisbane Broncos in 1992-93.