Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
With the current form of hulking second-rower Jason Taumalolo and the return of veteran Gavin Cooper, Cowboys mentor Paul Green has one of those ‘good problems to have’ on his left edge at the moment.
Green has a decision to make: does he forgo years of chemistry developed between playmaker Johnathan Thurston and Cooper to reward one of the game’s in-form ball runners, or does he go to the well for what has been a meal ticket for the club over that time?
But an experiment to throw Taumalolo into the middle has given him plenty of food for thought.
Following his side’s 28-8 victory over the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday night, Green was quick to rap Cooper’s performance after a dislocated hip kept him out for the better part of three months.
In his 100th appearance for the club, the rangy second-rower came up with 155 metres and 15 tackles in his return.
“Coops was outstanding tonight. He came back a week early from a pretty major injury, (and it) shows he’s pretty committed to what we want to do this year,” Green said post-game.
But Taumalolo proved an equal handful with 159 metres and 23 tackles of his own, and while it means making some hard cuts, both are seen as must-haves in the run-on side.
Green hinted the decision may come a little easier considering the long-established combination Cooper has formed with Thurston and Taumalolo’s impact not just on the fringe, but also up the middle.
“I’m not sure (how the left edge is going to evolve). I’ll have a good look at the game and just get the balance right with the team. I thought (Taumalolo) was a real handful through the middle there when we moved him to the middle,” he said.
And it could be said that Cooper was also campaigning for the decorated position outside the game’s best halfback when speaking in the sheds after the game.
“Jase showed tonight that if you get him early ball he can be destructive, he looked really good through the middle working on those big tired boys," Cooper told NRL.com.
"I’m not the coach but hopefully I get a jersey next week and we’ll see where we’re at."
Now in his second stint at North Queensland, Cooper and Thurston were quick to rekindle their chemistry upon his return to the north in 2011 and have since become one of the games more in-sync duos, which can be attributed to a 32 percent strike rate over that stretch.
Cooper said the familiarity had breeded success.
“We’ve been playing together on that left edge for a while. He’s one of my best mates, we have spent a bit of time together," he said.
"Before I did my hip we would like to get out and play golf. We just seem to work well together and we both like to talk, we both like to have fun."
While their combination was a point of emphasis for former coach Neil Henry, Green looked to be going another way at the start of his tenure by promoting Taumalolo to the left edge.
Cooper revealed that a pre-season chat with Green pre-empted a desire to get his younger team-mate early ball.
“Greeny had come to me at the start of the year and we couldn’t really find Jase into a game so the plan was to get him a lot more ball. That was fine by me, as long as I got to play somewhere, it was okay," he said.
Green lauded Cooper's professionalism and commitment to the cause after coming back a week earlier than expected.
“He’s a professional, committed. Cares about the club, cares about the boys and he’s done everything he possibly can," he said.