AFTER they were beaten in their opening three games of 2015, most good judges, and even the Cowboys faithful, had every reason to second-guess the composition of a very talented playing roster.
All and sundry knew the Cowboys were a much better team than their early-season form showed.
And with half a dozen internationals in their line-up, arguably the best player in the game and a young coach on the rise, their lack of zest was a real head scratcher.
Invariably the structure of modern-day rugby league changes season by season.
A bright-spark coach will introduce to the game a ploy that grabs the attention of others and suddenly that becomes the flavour of the month.
And once that innovation is deemed to be old hat or is outlawed - as has been the case with the many defensive tactics introduced to delay the play the ball - another will evolve.
This pattern has occurred ad infinitum for the past decade or so.
But one constant of the modern game is the impact of the spine - the fullback, halves and hooker.
History tells us that all recent premiers have had potency in those positions.
And early on, coach Paul Green and the Cowboys did not have theirs right.
Enter Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville and four straight wins have resulted.
The call by Green to make the changes would not have been easy.
Michael Morgan was a revelation at fullback last year; Robert Lui, at his best, is a match winner and Rory Kostjasyn a real tradesman.
But while Coote and Granville have settled into their positions with aplomb and have been starring in recent weeks, the most important job they have done is take a burden off their courageous skipper Johnathan Thurston.
In the opening three rounds, Thurston was like a fly. On the field, he was everywhere, trying to be in everything but achieving little. Coote and Granville have taken much of that pressure away. Coote is sharing the kicking duties and is constantly on the ball, presenting Thurston with a plethora of options in attack.
And Granville, who is a dart out of dummy half, constantly has the Cowboys on the front foot. That makes Thurston much more potent when he gets the ball with the defence retreating.
It's only early days yet, and the Roosters and Rabbitohs are still my fancies for the big dance at season's end, but new blood has given the Cowboys new hope.
Yes, yes, yes
FIVE games in five cities on Anzac Day - well done NRL hierarchy.
No, no, no
JORGE Taufua says he and Jacob Loko are still good mates despite their wild, public brawl in Sydney recently. With friends like Jorge, who needs enemies?
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.