Cowboys hot favourites to take out NRL premiership
THEY'VE got a rookie coach with a Midas touch, the best playmaker in the game and bookend props who'll spearhead the assaults of both Queensland and New South Wales in this year's State of Origin series.
Is this the year of the Cowboys?
I know, you've heard it all before!
But new coach Paul Green, who played 35 games for the North Queensland club and 10 for Queensland, will have the services of best on-field general in the game in Johnathan Thurston.
Add to that the muscle of Test and Origin front-rowers Matt Scott (Queensland) and James Tamou (NSW) as his forward enforcers.
That's not a bad start, and big punters agree.
"Punters really like them," declared TattsBet's astute media manager Gerard Daffy, who reports the Cowboys have attracted twice the number of bets to win the 2014 premiership than any of the other 15 NRL teams.
Since their impressive NRL Auckland Nines victory to collect the club's first piece of rugby league silverware, the Cowboys have been crunched in from $2.35 to $2 to be the best performed of the three Queensland teams.
"We can't get a cracker out of the Brisbane Broncos ($2.65) but there's been some specking for the Gold Coast Titans at $4.75," Daffy told APN.
Green's apprenticeship includes coaching the Sydney Roosters Under-20s and landing back-to-back Queensland
Cups with Wynnum Manly in 2011-12 before steering the Cowboys to an upset Nines win.
He has wisely kept a low media profile and kept a lid on talk of the Cowboys winning the 2014 title.
"Talking up our playing roster and winning the premiership in previous years hasn't done the club any good," Green said.
The rookie NRL coach's biggest selection headache will be deciding who to play at fullback following the serious knee injury to Lachlan Coote in the recent Nines, and whether to carry a specialist hooker on his bench.
Brisbane may have been the last club to go back-to-back in 1992-93, but the Sydney Roosters boast a playing roster and defence that screams consecutive premiership winners.
It's hard to go past a team that scored more tries, had the leading point scorer James Maloney (252 points) and equal leading try scorer Michael Jennings (20) in 2013.
Toss in Sonny Bill Williams and other representative stars, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Sam Moa and proven club halves James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce, and you have a balanced team which will be very tough to crack.
Like the Cowboys, South Sydney has threatened to end its premiership drought, which stretches back 43 years, in recent seasons.
With news Englishman Sam Burgess will depart Redfern in 2015, the Rabbitohs' best chance of delivering for their long-suffering fans will be this season.
Unfortunately though, coach Michael Maguire's plan to play boom youngster Luke Keary at five-eighth and swing ball-playing hulk John Sutton into the back row has gone out the window.
Keary suffered a shoulder injury during the Auckland Nines, which is likely to keep him sidelined for most of the 2014 season.
Even so, Maguire has enough strike power in Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Issac Luke, Nathan Merritt, Chris McQueen and George and Tom Burgess to launch a serious challenge.