Crazy stat separating Cowboys from the pack
CONTINUITY is king in the NRL.
In an age of 'structures' and defensive patterns indiscernible from one to the next to the untrained eye, picking up where you left off is infinitely more preferable than starting from scratch.
While Trent Robinson's remodelled Roosters of 2013 are the exception to the rule, the ability to make subtle adjustments and improvements as opposed to the uncertainty associated with wholesale changes puts a team ahead of the pack.
When Paul Green arrived in Townsville to take up the position as head coach of the North Queensland Cowboys prior to the 2014 season, he inherited a team that had been to the finals the previous three years without ever advancing past week two.
Rather than putting his stamp on the organisation by pulling the roster apart and bringing in players familiar to him as many new coaches choose to do, Green used the talent he had at his disposal with some judicious additions.
It was not a playing group that needed radical adjustment in order to be successful but it was a show of strength in Green's personality that he applied his rugby league knowledge to what he had at hand rather than go looking for answers in the transfer market.
"It was by no means a club in trouble when I took it over," Green told foxsports.com.au.
"I've made a few slight changes and tried to match the way we play with the playing group that I've had and that's evolved over the years.
"We've at different times had to go and recruit but we've never really been huge in the player market."
The result is a Cowboys line-up that is almost identical to that which started the 2015 season and which thoroughly deserves its status as one of the pre-season premiership favourites.
Statistics provided by the Fox Sports Lab show that of the round one predicted teams, the Cowboys have by far and away the most number of players who ran out in round one, 2015.
All things going well during the trials, there will be 11 Cowboys take on the Sharks in round one that started the season three years ago, three clear of the next best in the Roosters with eight.
Kangaroos prop Jordan McLean parachutes his way into the team along with the returning Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott in a side that has had very little turnover since Green's arrival.
Lachlan Coote was signed a month before Green was appointed in 2013, he picked up injury-plagued centre Tautau Moga from the Roosters and a year later he added two players with whom he was familiar from his time in Brisbane, prop Ben Hannant and Wynnum Manly hooker Jake Granville.
Justin O'Neill was a late pick-up from the Storm prior to the 2015 premiership season and the Cowboys then created history by using the same 17 that won the NRL grand final to take out the World Club Challenge in England the following February.
With such a settled squad Green says new players who come to the club adapt very quickly to the Cowboys way of doing things.
"It's definitely easier when you've got that core group together," Green admitted.
"Once how you do things and your culture is established, when people come in to that they pretty quickly learn how things are done around here.
"If you've got to start from scratch from that point of view each year that can be pretty time-consuming and hard work.
"Also the principles by which you play, you don't have to reinvent the wheel each year.
"Because everyone understands what we do it's easier to make changes if you think you need to."
Off-contract at the end of the year, Green has effectively future-proofed the Cowboys by promoting from within and in so doing ensured his players take the field confident from the belief displayed in them by their coach.
"It's just good to see that Greeny's had the trust in the playing group that we've got and he's willing to stick with it," Kyle Feldt told foxsports.com.au, a player who had to win Green's trust in his first season in charge.
"That's one of the big things that he's really done.
"He didn't change the roster at all, he's just brought the odd one or two players in.
"He's obviously seen the potential our squad had and it was a young squad when he got there.
"He's blooded a lot of young players through and it's good to see that a few of them are still there and making a good name for themselves."
Back-rower Ethan Lowe only made his NRL debut midway through the 2013 season prior to Green's arrival and is one of a host of North Queensland players to have graduated from the under-20s team to become an NRL regular.
A look at their predicted team for this season boasts seven players that have never played for any other NRL club and why Lowe expects them to start the season on the front foot.
"There are always a few little changes here and there, we've got big 'Macca' this year," Lowe said of the signing of Jordan McLean.
"But it definitely helps when you don't have a lot of new players having to learn new systems and stuff.
"When you're performing the same sort of role each year it's a lot easier to come back and be able to switch on a lot easier."
As for Green's future, Feldt is hopeful his Townsville tenure will be extended for a few more years.
"Obviously he's got one more year up there and I think the club's in no rush to get rid of him," said Feldt.
"He's obviously put the club in good stead and brought a good culture up there and really fits in.
"All the boys really get around him and so does the club itself."
The survivors at each NRL club from round one 2015 who are expected to play in round one 2018.
Cowboys (11): Kane Linnett, Justin O'Neill, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Jake Granville, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo, Scott Bolton
Roosters (8): Daniel Tupou, Blake Ferguson, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dylan Napa, Boyd Cordner, Mitchell Aubusson, Isaac Liu, Sio Siua Taukeiaho
Raiders (7): Jack Wighton, Jordan Rapana, Jarrod Croker, Blake Austin, Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola, Luke Bateman
Broncos (7): Jordan Kahu, Anthony Milford, Andrew McCullough, Alex Glenn, Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire, Sam Thaiday
Sharks (7): Sosaia Feki, Ricky Leutele, Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen, Jayson Bukuya
Storm (7): Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Tim Glasby, Felise Kaufusi, Dale Finucane
Bulldogs (6): Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Michael Lichaa, Aiden Tolman, Josh Jackson, David Klemmer
Rabbitohs (6): Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Adam Reynolds, Tom Burgess, John Sutton, George Burgess
Warriors (5): Solomone Kata, Shaun Johnson, Albert Vete, Simon Mannering, Sam Lisone
Dragons (5): Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin, Leeson Ah Mau
Eels (5): Brad Takairangi, Corey Norman, Tim Mannah, Manu Ma'u, Tepai Moeroa
Panthers (4): Dean Whare, Peter Wallace, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tyrone Peachey
Wests Tigers (3): Kevin Naiqama, Luke Brooks, Sauaso Sue
Titans (1): Ryan James
Sea Eagles (1): Daly Cherry-Evans
Knights (1): Sione Mata'utia