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Prop John Puna will continue his return from knee reconstruction surgery by starting for the Toyota Cowboys’ NYC squad in Saturday night’s round four Toyota Cup clash with in-form Cronulla at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

Puna played his first match for 10 months at the weekend when he came off the interchange bench and won North Queensland’s player of the match award in the 30-22 loss to Parramatta.

The 19-year-old ran for 125 metres in 13 hit-ups and scored a try off a neat short ball from five-eighth Tennyson Elliott.

With Lloyd McIver rested due to concussion issues, Puna will take over in the starting front-row and back-rower Jack Kelleher has been recalled for coach Todd Wilson’s squad of 17.

Patrick Kaufusi has been elevated to the run-on team for the first time in the back-row, switching roles with Tom Hancock, while Damon Tauroa-Rauhihi, who has yet to make his under-20s debut, and Jayden Hodges have been added to a five-man bench.

The Cowboys, coming off back-to-back losses, will have to counter a Cronulla team that trampled Manly 78-10 on Monday night, racing in 11 tries, including seven in the second half.

It was the Sharks’ second straight win after their season began with a heavy loss against Newcastle.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 6.15pm.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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