Cowboys’ most contentious position heats up
IN a Cowboys team that rarely changes there is one position up for grabs and those in the hot seat are already looking over their shoulder.
A forward pack full of representative big men, two of the elite playmakers in the game and perhaps the most underrated fullback in the NRL leaves little room for up-and-comers to make their mark but there is a growing stable of young outside backs just waiting for their chance.
When the Cowboys open their 2018 campaign against the Sharks in Townsville the names Kyle Feldt, Justin O'Neill, Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein will almost certainly fill the three-quarter line but there are no guarantees that they will stay there.
Waiting in the wings are a handful of try-scoring freaks and tackle-busting centres such as Javid Bowen, Gideon Gela-Mosby, Enari Tuala, Carlin Anderson and Marcus Jensen, all of whom, except Jensen and Anderson, have already had a taste of first grade.
Ever since his stunning last-second try to win the 2015 grand final Feldt has been a staple of the Cowboys backline, playing 52 of a possible 55 games, his only misses coming courtesy of a three-game suspension in 2016.
But despite scoring 15 tries last season, a second camp with the Queensland Emerging Origin squad and with 74 NRL games to his name, Feldt is feeling the heat from the speedsters at his back.
"This year's going to be really hard," Feldt told foxsports.com.au.
"There are some really outstanding outside backs there and I know personally that they're really knocking on the door.
"Young Gideon Gela-Mosby, he got a good start last year and made the most of it, Javid Bowen's there as well, Enari, Marcus Jensen…
"There are quite a few good players that are all in good form coming off a good year last year and a good full pre-season.
"It's something that's really going to help me stay on my toes."
Injuries last year to O'Neill and Winterstein provided the opportunity for Bowen to play 13 games last season, his elusiveness providing the Cowboys' attack with some added potency.
Winterstein, Linnett and O'Neill scored a total of 10 tries between them last season and Bowen hopes that if he can deliver consistent defensive efforts that his ability in attack will help to secure a call-up.
"The attacking side is normally always pretty good," Bowen said when asked what he could bring to the team.
"I've just got to work on the defensive side and try and be consistent defensively. I think that will help in getting a spot.
"I noticed pretty early on that I needed to improve defensively straight away so I just tried to concentrate on that more than the attack because the attack just normally happens.
"All the outside backs are working hard. I think they can see there is a spot there up for grabs.
"If you're not performing you're not going to take the field so everyone is working hard and looking for a spot.
"I'm pushing for a spot, trying to start hopefully. Just have to keep working hard and see what happens."
Due to turn 25 on March 30, Bowen is trying to make up ground after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season but is confident of being available to line up against the Wests Tigers in the side's trial game in Cairns.
"Next week I'll be back to full contact leading into the first trial hopefully and play that game," Bowen said. "The shoulder is feeling good and will be ready for one of the trials.
"Getting surgery, you don't do much in the off-season so you blow-out a little bit and coming back is hard.
"You've just got to work hard to get back to that playing weight and fitness."