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‘Embarrassed’ Hess pledges to a career renaissance up front

But despite his own harsh assessment, a move to prop midway through 2021 appeared to be the catalyst for a career revival.Now he wants to capitalise and become a leader in the club.MORE TOWNSVILLE SPORT GALLERY: Last year’s nightmare inspires Ray’s grand final heroics GALLERY: Crazy grand final solo act in Hermit Park triumph ‘Now is the time’: Indigenous icon’s cry to inspire major changeAfter bursting onto the scene in 2017 with his destructive ball running off the bench, Hess has rarely lived up to the hype his initial form created in recent seasons.Out on the edge, the 24-year-old did not inject himself into the game with the same ferocity, but his time in the middle of the field has helped him rediscover his mojo.Aside from Jordan McLean, who is off contract at the end of 2022, the Cowboys forward pack are all well under the age of 30, with a host of emerging prospects making their mark.Up front the likes of Tom Gilbert and Griffin Neame have announced themselves as the future of the engine room, and Hess wants to be alongside them leading the charge.He said when he first came into the NRL he felt “invincible”, surrounded by established legends of the game. He wants to ensure the youthful brigade coming through the ranks experienced the same feeling, and he is determined to be the one who inspires it.“I guess my form hasn’t really been up to scratch for the last few years, but I certainly felt this year I’ve made great headway moving forward and that was due to the position change,” Hess said.“Those two younger guys (Gilbert and Neame) are tremendous players and their work ethic is probably up there with the best in the club.“We all try to get the best out of each other, and those two in particular are two I’m really excited to see.“I remember when I was coming through the ranks I’d run out and almost felt invincible. You look to your left and there’s JT, then you look to your right and there’s Matt Scott.“No matter what, I ran onto the field with confidence and I’d love the younger boys to experience that. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that, and I’d love to get the club back to that state.”Hess declared the front row was now where he saw his long term position, and his first pre-season training in the position could spell promising signs for the Cowboys’ faithful.The six-time Queensland representative flagged physical changes he would undergo in the off season to ensure he can provide more of an impact in his shortened stints as a prop.Given the four year finals drought the club find themselves in, he said he owed it to the fans to make amends for a period in which losses have become synonymous with their name.“You can mope around town because you can that you’ve let everyone down, so it’s not a good place to be in,” Hess said.“When times are tough, training on the back of that becomes tough too because the only way to get out of a form slump is by hard work.“It’s not what everyone wants to be in, but that’s the position we were in. Moving into this pre-season coming up there’s no doubt we have tough work ahead of ourselves.“We know what this community deserves, and that’s what we want to get back to.”Pick and stick: Holmes seeks clarity over long-term futureValentine Holmes has refused to rule out a long-term career in the centres, but called for a clear direction in where his future lies. The Cowboys’ marquee man returned to Townsville from the NFL in 2020 with the intent to don the number one jumper.However the emergence of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback has ignited an intriguing off season battle between the pair, after the teenage wunderkind unseated Holmes in the later stages of the competition. Holmes began the campaign on the wing, but he regained the custodian role he coveted for much the year, before finishing in the centres. While he said he was open to the three-quarter line being a permanent move, he needed to remain there. Much like an employee in other industries who have new responsibilities thrust upon them, Holmes said if he was to become a leading NRL centre he needed time to thrive.Chopping and changing would only lead to a similar year to what the Cowboys just endured. “I enjoyed playing centre, I used to play there when I was younger through high school and in the under-20s (but) I need to get a pre-season under me there,” Holmes said. “We need to have guys in positions for more than a couple of weeks. We’re bringing guys in due to injury and form, we’re changing guys a lot. “I just want to play, I’m happy to play centre where it’s still close to the ball. I get to roam around, (coach) Toddy (Payten) has given me the licence to roam in and be a second fullback and get on the back of Drinky (Scott Drinkwater).“Being told where you’re going to play in itself affects your mindset, you can control where you’re playing and how you’re training. “If there’s a lot of shuffling around it can be hard to adapt. Obviously there’s a lot of running a fullback than there is at centre, but then there’s a different type of running at centre. “If we’re sticking to one position it’s a lot better to work on your game and better your game.” Holmes returned to Townsville as the club’s silver bullet, the man to rediscover the side’s spark in attack in the same manner he did at Cronulla. Prior to his high profile move to New York, the 26-year-old scored 22 tries and made 26 line breaks on The Shire, spearheading the Sharks into the top four. Much to the frustration of Cowboys fans, he is yet to get back to those lofty heights. Holmes has been far from poor with the Steeden in hand from his two North Queensland campaigns. He has still showcased his threat level when running the ball in peak form, and he has still proven to be cool and calm under pressure; think his clutch field goals to clinch victories over Brisbane and New Zealand as examples of the match-winning potential within him. However when the Cowboys have struggled, so too has Holmes. Defensively the Maroons flyer has made the most errors in the 2021 competition (34), while off the ball his defence has come with a tackle efficiency of just 62.6 per cent. It is not an issue purely directed at Holmes, rather a team wide concern where overlaps and attacking chance for their opponents are afforded too regularly. As for pundits critical of his inability to reach the 2018 heights, Holmes said they were unrealistic expectations within a team still rebuilding. He said at the Sharks he had been playing alongside his teammates for a prolonged period — who knew their strengths, he understood their weaknesses. Once the Cowboys rediscover that same continuity, that is when he believes the best of Holmes would return.“When I was playing at the Sharks I had been in that system for a while. We’d been playing alongside each other for a while and we knew each other’s strengths,” Holmes said. “That’s probably one thing we need to be better at at the Cowboys, we need to know what each other’s strengths are and play to that. Everyone thinks I can just get back that form from 2018, but it’s not like that. “It’s a new team, different players, different attacking schemes – it’s all different, so you can’t just switch it on in another team. “Back in 2018 you could slow the ruck down a bit and there was none of this six again. It’s brought that fatigue into the game, some teams can handle it, some can’t, and it’s one thing we haven’t really adapted to in the past couple of years.” Holmes said that was where a true organiser of a team was needed, which is where a former teammate comes into play. The Queensland star played alongside the incoming Chad Townsend during his magic run at the Sharks, as well as winning the 2016 premiership. Holmes said what Townsend brought would be the control needed to bring out the best in the likes of himself, Tabuai-Fidow and Scott Drinkwater, each largely freed of the organisational burdens which can hinder their attacking prowess. “He’ll be a massive influence. He’s a good leader, he’s been in the game for a while and he’s won a premiership,” he said. “He’s played with some good halves and backrowers, and he’ll be a good leader for us. “He’ll direct us around the park really well, that’s probably one thing we’ve missed – especially when Morgo (Michael Morgan) left. “Since JT (Johnathan Thurston) left we haven’t found that dominant half that we can come to rely on to lead us around, but I think Chad will bring that.” ‘I don’t think we deserve to get away’: Robson’s move to never forget ‘embarrassing’ campaignA visibly shattered Reece Robson has called on his teammates not to forget the embarrassment they now felt, adamant they needed to live in the disappointment as they leave the NRL’s Covid-19 bubble. The Cowboys hooker cut a forlorn figure after his side’s 46-18 loss to Manly, his voice shaking at times when discussing 2021 with The Townsville Bulletin. At just 23, Robson is still very much at the start of his NRL career, and he has been one of the few consistencies to come out of the North Queensland campaign. Statistically he has carried his weight, averaging 61 running metres and 38 tackles a game this season. But after a year in which the Cowboys suffered 11 defeats from their last 12 encounters, Robson said he never wanted to feel the way he did again. He said as gruelling as the competition had been, he and his fellow Cowboys did not deserve to switch off from the game and cast aside the performances they have produced. The crafty dummy half said they needed to marinate in the anguish and ensure they never forgot the pain they were in. “I don’t think it’s any surprise we think it’s embarrassing for us and definitely not something we’re happy with or accepting,” Robson said. “I think we’ve just got to take this break to think about what we’ve dished up this year. Get back to pre-season and remember how we’re feeling now so we don’t feel like this again next year.“I think that’s just in you as a footballer. You try to switch off but you’re always thinking about it. We more need to keep thinking about it so we know how much it hurts. “So when we come back to the pre-season and it is tough that’s when we dig deep and find that way of how we’re feeling now so we can give a bit more.“It’s not going to be easy to get to where we need to get to but we need to make that sacrifice so we’re not feeling like this again.”Robson’s frustrations came from the Cowboys’ inability to overcome setbacks. Frequently they had been able to wrestle back momentum against the Sea Eagles but each time they released the pressure and the flood gates opened. It has been a constant theme of the year. With North Queensland’s season now over, the squad and support staff will at last be released from the coronavirus bubble restrictions which have structured their lifestyle. It comes as a relief to Robson, who admitted once the losses started piling up the limitations he and his team were then living under made the disappointment impossible to escape. But he said given the way they performed in 2021, perhaps mulling in the agony could be what steels them in the future. “Definitely bubble life is not easy on anyone, and when you compound losses on top of that you’ve got no way to escape it,” Robson said. “That’s all you’re thinking about, so it definitely doesn’t help. But the way things have gone it would’ve been too easy to get away and forget about what we were dishing up, because it wasn’t good enough. “I don’t think we deserve to be able to get away from that, we all need to look at ourselves in the mirror and dish up a lot better next year.” Speaking after his side’s defeat to Manly on Saturday night, Cowboys coach Todd Payten signalled a complete change in the way he and his coaching team would approach the pre-season. It has been a year long preach from the former Warriors mentor: the North Queensland squad needed to be more resilient in the face of adversity. The message has not stuck for 25 rounds. It was evident against the Sea Eagles when Murray Taulagi snapped an intercept and charge the length of the field, pulled up just short of the visitor’s line. The Cowboys failed to score off the chance, and what transpired was a four try romping from Manly in the final 10 minutes. In summing up his first season as North Queensland’s head coach, Payten said he entered the campaign hopeful he would have an impact on the playing group quicker than what had occurred. He confirmed a “mental skills coach” had been hired for the 2022 pre-season and that his players would experience a far more psychologically difficult training period than they had. “The last 10 minutes were absolutely unacceptable. I thought we gave up in the last few minutes when things were going the other way,” Payten said. “Things will change, and this pre-season there will be a bigger focus on our mental skills along with our physical capabilities. “Our last pre-season we probably put too much focus on our game model and we wanted to do in attack and defence. That’s not the way we’re going to attack it this pre-season. “You’ve got to make them uncomfortable every day until they get to the point where we are comfortable being uncomfortable.”

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