SEVERAL Maroons stars will hold the key to the fortunes of Queensland’s NRL clubs as the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans chase premiership dreams in 2019.
The 2018 NRL season was not a pleasant one for Queensland’s trinity of teams, with the Titans finishing third-last and the Cowboys crashing spectacularly, going from premiership favourites to a lowly 13th spot.
That left Brisbane to carry Queensland’s hopes in the NRL finals, only for the Broncos to be bundled out in the opening week of the playoffs with a 48-18 hammering at the hands of the Dragons.
But with the new pre-season just a month away, the Broncos, Titans and Cowboys will be banking on their blue-chip Queensland Origin representatives to spearhead a fresh title assault.
Maroons utility Michael Morgan shapes as the pivotal figure in North Queensland’s planned revival.
Morgan played just one Origin game in 2018 before suffering a bicep tear at club level, but he returns fully fit in 2019 hoping to replace Johnathan Thurston in the Cowboys’ No.7 jumper and reclaim his Queensland guernsey.
Morgan will be supported by front-row warhorse Matt Scott, who is hoping to break back into the Queensland team next year, Origin back-rowers Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper and Maroons eligible Ben Barba, who returns to the NRL from English club St Helens.
“The club is in really good shape for next year,” said the retired Thurston.
“We will get ‘Morgo’ back and with Benny Barba, we all know what he can do on a football field. He will fit into our structures really well.
“I’m confident Morgo can steer the club around the park. He’s got that Origin experience, so the boys won’t be having a year like we did this season.”
Six current or former Maroons will underpin Brisbane’s quest to break a 13-year premiership drought next season.
Veteran workhorses Josh McGuire and Andrew McCullough will be the glue that binds Brisbane’s forward pack, while five-eighth Anthony Milford and winger Corey Oates provide the punch in their backline.
Skipper Darius Boyd, a 28-game Queensland legend, will pull the strings from fullback and the Broncos are sweating on the return of Matt Gillett from the fractured neck that ended his 2018 season after just five games.
Gillett’s comeback will also be a massive boost for the Maroons, who sorely missed his workrate and toughness in their 2-1 series loss to the Blues this year.
“Gillo” coming back will make a huge difference,” said Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr.
“Last season wasn’t the season we really wanted.
“I felt we were good enough to win the premiership but it ended up being more of a learning year for all of us.”
The Titans, meanwhile, will be looking to Maroons duo Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace to provide starch in midfield, which would give Queensland hopeful Ash Taylor the platform to work his magic.
Taylor went close to clinching a Queensland debut in Origin III this year and he impressed in Dally M Medal voting, finishing in the top 10 with 18 points as the Gold Coast’s best performed player.
The 23-year-old Taylor has now played 70 first-grade games and is entering a stage of his career where he is ready to challenge Daly Cherry-Evans and Ben Hunt for the Queensland No.7 jumper.