North Queensland backs 'on notice'
Competition for spots is hot on the Cowboys' edges and that's just how coach Paul Green wants it.
The concept of continuity has been thrown out the window heading into finals, with exciting youngster Javid Bowen heaping pressure on the likes of Kyle Feldt and Kane Linnett as the premiers look to mount their charge for back-to-back titles.
Bowen has excelled in both left centre and right wing spots in his few games this year, and while the finals may be two weeks away, every game from Thursday onward is something of an 'individual final' particularly for the two men wearing the No.2 and 4 jerseys.
Left wing stalwart Antonio Winterstein and Origin centre Justin O'Neill have been in good form all year, but Green has every one of the four outside backs "on notice".
"[Bowen] is not far off, so the beauty of that is that everyone is on notice in the outside backs," Green said.
"As we're getting closer and closer to finals I'm going to pick the best team.
"[Bowen] probably didn't have his best game against St George Illawarra early in the year. Defensively he wasn't on that night but I think since he's come back into the team his form has been excellent.
"He certainly proved that he can contribute well to the team.
"It's good knowing that you have a guy in form which is healthy competition for the rest of them."
Conditions have cleared around western Sydney as of Thursday morning but the Bulldogs clash still shapes as a slippery outing with few points on offer, which plays into the hands of Linnett whose simplified game style adopts well to a tough track.
Meanwhile, Feldt will want to make the most of his kick returns off the left-footed Moses Mbye and take early carries toward the middle as it could be a long, cold night on the flank.
"I think it's a good thing having competition for spots," Linnett said.
"It keeps everyone on their toes and there have been a couple of injuries around, so those [reserve] boys play a big part, especially coming into finals.
"It's good to have confidence that you have a player [Bowen] who can come in and do the job."
North Queensland's forward pack is also not immune to changes, with a three-way race for the final interchange spot regularly occupied by John Asiata.
Green last week brought Coen Hess into the fray after sending Asiata to the Intrust Super Cup for match fitness, while Patrick Kaufusi replaced the injured Ben Hannant.
Hannant is likely an immediate selection once available, but Asiata no longer seems guaranteed a place in the 17.