North Queensland Cowboys utility Ben Hampton.

Team list shake-up for injury-hit Cowboys

North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green has named Ben Hampton at halfback for the injured Johnathan Thurston in his 21-man squad to take on the St George Illawarra Dragons on Saturday night. 

With an uncertain two-to-three-week wait for the star playmaker's return, Hampton will likely be filling Thurston's shoes for several weeks. Green spoke about Hampton's prior experience at halfback as motivation for picking him in the position.  

"Ben's played a bit there when he was younger. He's got a good kicking game also. For the balance of the team and probably the game we want to play and the areas we need to improve I thought he's probably the best option at this stage," Green said.  

‌New recruit Blake Leary was the team's interchange hooker last week but will be this week's starting No.9, and Green is hopeful Leary will step up to the challenge after a strong performance against the Tigers. 

"He did a really good job, he was really tidy defensively I thought our attack flowed pretty well when he was in there at hooker," Green said. 

"We'll see how Blake handles it whether or not we can get him to play 80 [minutes] or not, so we'll see how that goes but we've got a couple of options there." 

This may have been Green's reasoning for moving Ethan Lowe into the number 14 jersey on the bench and starting Coen Hess. Lowe has played several roles in the previous weeks when players have been injured and could spend some time at dummy-half.

There is some good news for North Queensland, with the return of centre Justin O'Neill giving Green some much-needed experience on the edge – a point of concern for the Cowboys in both attack and defence.

"It was anywhere from four to six [weeks] depending on the initial diagnosis so I was really pleased to get him back I nearly kissed our physio when he told me," Green said. 

"[He brings] genuine strike, he's a real threat out there, and experience as well which is what we're lacking a little bit at the moment given the injuries we've got. Those more experienced guys are just a bit of a calmer head at different times when you're under pressure." 

Ben Spina is also making his return to the side, and Townsville Blackhawks regular Corey Jensen will be making his debut for the Cowboys. 

Cowboys team to play the Dragons: Kalyn Ponga, Kyle Feldt, Justin O'Neill, Kane Linnett, Gideon Gela-Mosby, Michael Morgan, Ben Hampton, Patrick Kaufusi, Blake Leary, Scott Bolton, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess, Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: Ethan Lowe, John Asiata, Corey Jensen, Ben Spina.