Cowboys wait on experienced heads
The North Queensland Cowboys will welcome back interchange back-rower Shaun Fensom and winger Antonio Winterstein for Friday night's game against the Wests Tigers, while back-rower Gavin Cooper and fullback Lachlan Coote have been named in the 21 man squad.
The news is a welcome relief for the Cowboys as they struggle to remain in the top eight, having fallen to seventh after their loss to the Cronulla Sharks in Round 24.
Forward John Asiata has also been named on the bench, having dodged serious injury to his arm last week despite being forced from the field after an awkward tackle.
Coach Paul Green had a headache deciding on a final 17.
"It's a bit challenging at the moment, there's a few guys that are borderline there so we won't know right up until the last session if they're fit," Green said.
"At the moment we're probably just about to come out of one of the most challenging periods at the club since I've been here, but I'm proud of the boys and the way they've approached it and I'm proud of the way they've been playing."
The inclusion of Winterstein and Fensom is already a huge bonus to the team, with both players stiffening up defence in their respective positions.
If the Cowboys can get Cooper and Coote back on top of that they'll have additional attacking options, as well as the leadership of the second-rower and the fullback's organisational skills from the back.
"I need to get a good idea of where they're at so whether or not to name them in the extended squad so that means they're a chance this week," the coach said.
"Having the experience that's probably the biggest thing, we've had young guys making debuts right across the park so that's what makes it tough.
"Just to have that experience around, back in the group even at training is a good thing, it calms everyone down and you get better quality there."
With the season getting towards the business end Green no longer has the time to play it safe, and may have to cut it fine in terms of returning players from injury.
"We don't have the luxury of too many more weeks in the comp and where we're sitting in the ladder probably puts us more towards that position than being a little bit more cautious like I was earlier in the year," Green said.
"But in saying that I'm still confident in the squad we've got. I think we've shown in the last month despite the four losses, I think we've competed really well against some of the best teams in the comp without that experience so I'm confident if those guys don't get through that we'll be right."