Cowboys centre reveals attack plans
RUGBY LEAGUE: Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill has vowed to return to the dynamic try-scoring form which helped earn him representative jumpers, pointing to the "drought” of tries from North Queensland's outside backs last year as a major opportunity for improvement.
O'Neill endured a topsy turvy campaign last year which included being dropped from the Queensland side after Origin I, and suffering a dislocated elbow which almost ended his season.
But after playing a key role in the Cowboys' remarkable run from eighth to the grand final in September, O'Neill is ready to put his stamp on matches.
Remarkably, North Queensland still made the grand final despite a lower than usual try-scoring return from their back five. Fellow centre Kane Linnett scored five in 28 games, winger Antonio Winterstein crossed for four in 19 games, fullback Lachlan Coote scored two in 21, and Kyle Feldt managed 15 in 28 despite taking until round 10 to break through.
O'Neill was unsure if the absence of Johnathan Thurston played a part after developing a lethal try-scoring combination with the superstar halfback in recent years.
"I was on a drought last year, I only got one I think,” O'Neill said.
"It's crazy because I don't think many of our backs did score many tries compared to previous seasons and we still made it to a grand final.
"Not having JT there we had some halves and players move around in different positions and our attack changed a bit, but I'm not too sure (if it was a factor).”
O'Neill thought his 2017 season was over after his horrific elbow injury at Penrith in round 23, but worked tirelessly to return for the second week of finals.
He was pleased with his form in the big end-of-season games and said the pain of losing the decider to Melbourne would be fuel for the team this year.
"It was a quick comeback from an injury I thought was probably going to end my season. I was happy the way I finished off,” he said.
"It would have been hard to sit on the sidelines and watch the boys go through that (finals run). I definitely wanted to be a part of it, and coming back from those games was important to me.
"It was a disappointing way to finish last year and we came so close, that's something that's going to be burning in the bellies of the boys who played in the GF.”
The Cowboys' outside backs have been entrenched in first grade for years, but said the young brigade coming through are applying the heat.
"(There's) a lot of great young talent coming through the ranks, a lot of great outside backs like Gideon (Gela-Mosby), Shaun Hudson and Carlin Anderson,” O'Neill said.
"There's a lot of other younger players coming through that are keeping the boys on their game.
"That's making our team better and we've got a great side to do something special this year, it's whether we take that opportunity.”