Cowboys back-rower Jason Taumalolo is expected to make his return against the Wests Tigers this weekend after a four-week layoff from injury.
John Asiata, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, let the cat out of the bag on Thursday morning, indicating that the explosive ball-runner was ready to go after a strong week on the training track.
Taumalolo’s estimated return of 4-6 weeks will be right on schedule if he takes the field on Saturday, which marks four weeks to the day since he went down in Round 8.
The inclusion of the Kiwi international is a much-needed boost for North Queensland’s fledgling forward pack, featuring the likes of Kelepi Tanginoa, Ben Spina and Sam Hoare.
Hoare will line up next to veteran Ben Hannant in a front row minus big-name bookends Matt Scott and James Tamou (Origin), along with Scott Bolton (injury).
Taumalolo’s inclusion will likely push either Kelepi Tanginoa or Glenn Hall out of the side.
“[Taumalolo is training] awesome. He’s been real good. It will be good to have him back this weekend and hopefully we lift,” Asiata said on Thursday.
“It doesn’t really change anything. If he starts or if he doesn’t start, my role really doesn’t change. I just have t do my part and when Jase comes in he will add a boost to our forward pack and it will be good to play with him again coming back from injury.”
Before going down against Newcastle, Taumalolo was the game’s most destructive forward with his combination of brute strength and quick feet at the line earning him averages of 147 run metres and four tackle busts per game.
Meanwhile, the club says it is yet to finalise its halves combination as of Thursday morning, with halfback Ray Thompson remaining tight-lipped as to his partner at five-eighth.
The most likely options are Lachlan Coote or former Cowboys under-20s star Michael Parker-Walshe, who has played with the Townsville Blackhawks throughout 2015.
Thompson, who plays dummy half at state level, says there is a lot to brush up on playing at No.7 against the Tigers this week, but is confident of steering the Cowboys to a club record eighth-straight win.
“I didn’t even do that much (training in the halves) during pre-season, so it’s going to be interesting,” Thompson said.
“I had a bit of a run there the other day. We do opposed sessions and I slot in there every now and again so I’m pretty familiar with the gameplan.
“Greeny gets us there working on our kicking game. I haven’t done a hell of a lot during the game the last couple of years but hopefully we get a bit of space and opportunities to put it up.
“We haven’t really talked about the gameplan but the systems that are in place are very similar to last year’s.”