Cowboys to hit ground running in 2016

What seemed to be a never-ending NRL premiership trophy tour is finally over.

Yet the North Queensland Cowboys can’t wait to get the party started all over again.

Centre Justin O’Neill hopes the upcoming Auckland Nines and World Club Challenge will give his community a new chance to celebrate just as their 2015 NRL title triumph finally sinks in for delirious locals.

The Cowboys initially partied on in Townsville before escorting the Provan-Summons NRL trophy on a two-month trek of communities from PNG to Mount Isa, clocking up more than 20,000km.

O’Neill said on Wednesday the traditional slow starters knew they would have a target on their backs after breaking a 20-year drought and earning their maiden title.

However, the silky centre earmarked for Queensland Origin duties hopes they can improve in 2016, starting with next month’s Nines and WCC in the UK.

“We have plenty to look forward to with the Nines and the World Club Challenge, it’s something to keep the boys excited,” O’Neill said.

“If we were to go to England and come back with the World Club Challenge, it would be another feather in the cap.

“And (in the NRL) we are definitely seen as the front-runners and will have teams coming out to beat us.

“The way we finished the season was great. We can hopefully build on it and get better.

“Leading into the year that is what we are working on.”

The Auckland Nines – which the Cowboys claimed in 2014, its inaugural year – will be held from February 6-7 at Eden Park.

The WCC will be held from February 19-21 and features North Queensland, NRL runners-up Brisbane and 2015 minor premiers Sydney Roosters plus Super League’s Wigan, Leeds and St Helens.

O’Neill hoped the Nines and WCC would witness a new and improved Cowboys.

Asked where North Queensland had to improve, O’Neill said: “Our defence.

“We finished the year better than we started it.

“That’s something we have to work on and be better at.”

O’Neill said he had already received a confidence boost after being named in a 20-man Queensland Emerging Origin squad.

They will assemble for a Brisbane camp from January 29-31.

O’Neill hoped to vie for retired great Justin Hodges’ centre vacancy with Dane Gagai and Will Chambers.

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