Coote best suited to five-eighth: Bell
Lachlan Coote will make his long-awaited return for the Cowboys at fullback on Saturday night but North Queensland's inaugural coach Grant Bell believes he should be picked at five-eighth for Round 1.
Recruited from the Panthers following the 2013 season to succeed Matt Bowen as the Cowboys' custodian, Coote suffered the heartbreak of rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Auckland Nines tournament last February and was unsighted for the rest of the year.
A misplaced passport kept him from returning to Auckland last weekend but he has been named to play at fullback against the Broncos in Mackay in a strong 23-man Cowboys squad boasting 2015 recruits Ben Hannant (Broncos), Kelepi Tanginoa (Eels) and Jake Granville (Broncos).
Michael Morgan's form at fullback in 2014 earned him a call-up to join the Queensland Origin camp for Game Three last season but he has been named in the place of Johnathan Thurston at halfback for this weekend's trial.
It's a conundrum coach Paul Green will no doubt wrestle with over the course of the pre-season but Bell believes the Cowboys should leave Morgan at fullback and find a place for Coote in the halves.
"The biggest challenge will be that they know Lachlan Coote is in their best 13 or 15 players, but so is Michael Morgan," Bell told NRL.com.
"I'm certain that 'Greeny' will be experimenting with Lachlan Coote in different positions and I'm certain he'll be experimenting with 'Morgo' in different positions.
"[Morgan] will be hard to move from [fullback] and I don't know how Greeny does that and still looks after Lachlan Coote.
"They'll have to have a look at Lachlan Coote in the halves and see how he goes there.
"I think Lachlan Coote will start at 6; that would be my Round 1 assessment. I think they need him in there, I think he's a great player. And he's tough. He's a fighter."
Having played 30 games in various positions over the previous four seasons Morgan was a revelation at fullback in 2014, taking advantage of his opportunity to play all 26 games, score 10 tries and produce 20 try assists, equal fifth in the NRL last season.
Having rediscovered his confidence – albeit in a previously unfamiliar position – Bell warned that moving Morgan into a different position again could have a detrimental impact on his performance.
"He struggles more as a six or seven because for him it takes time to process all the information," said Bell, who coached the Cowboys in their debut season in 1995 and has been a commentator with ABC Radio for more than a decade.
"That's not a criticism; some players process the information at different rates because they're looking for different things. At fullback he can process that information, he can read and interpret, he can be at the right spot, he can use his speed and his running game to create the opportunities.
"He brings in a number of things from fullback that he couldn't bring in as a seven or a six.
"I'd be loath to move Morgo at the moment and I think it then comes down to whether Robert Lui is the man on the bench."
Coote completed the 2012 season at Penrith at five-eighth and played the first tow games of 2013 in the No.6 and his tenacious style shapes as a good foil for Thurston according to Bell.
"You don't want to be overly creative at the expense of 'Johnno' and I think he'll give a nice balance to that," said Bell. "It strengthens their defensive line, which I think Greeny would be keen to do; I think he's a better defender than Robert.
"Robert Lui might be the player that misses out. He was up and down a bit during the season, defensively he's still not always as consistent and reliable as others would like, there are games where he doesn't take the line on and is not as effective.
"When he takes the line on and runs it's a great foil for Johnno. Would Lachlan Coote take the line on every time? Yeah he would."