North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green is confident Te Maire Martin can build on his first-up hit-out alongside Johnathan Thurston after Michael Morgan has again been ruled out with injury.
Morgan did not fly with the rest of the team to Brisbane on Thursday, despite training earlier in the day, meaning Martin will partner Thurston at the scrum-base for the second time in their clash with the Brisbane Broncos on Friday night.
Morgan will be ready to go next Thursday against the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park, but Green said he couldn't risk one of his key players so early in the season.
Martin, a mid-season acquisition last year, lined up alongside Thurston for the first time in a Telstra Premiership NRL match in last Friday's win over Cronulla Sharks.
“Te did a great job for us and I think that was his first time he’s played with Johnno in the halves as well so that combination will get better and hopefully it does tomorrow night," Green said.
“That’s part of learning to play and forming that combination, so he’ll be better for the run from last week. In saying that he was pretty good for us also.
"(Morgan) was pretty close, but he probably hadn't improved enough so if did play tomorrow night he probably would have taken a fair while to get over the game.
"At this stage we don't want to be taking the risk… an injury like this can hang around all season and we want to try and avoid that if we can."
Unfortunately for Morgan it will mean he's missed both Thurston's 300th as well as winger Antonio Winterstein's 200th game, which the quietly spoken Cowboy will play against his old club.
Winterstein has built a career that includes international representation as well as a premiership with the Cowboys, after beginning life on a train-and-trial basis with the Broncos, where he played every game in his rookie Telstra Premiership season in 2009.
"It's a huge achievement for anyone to play 200 games in the NRL, it's a sign of longevity and consistency so it's a wonderful achievement for him," Green said.
"I wouldn't say he's under-rated, certainly not internally, we're really aware of what he brings to a squad and a group.
"He doesn't say a lot… but when he does speak people definitely listen, and he certainly brings plenty of leadership, particularly for the young guys, it gives those guys at the back plenty of confidence when they look up and see him carrying the footy."
While the Cowboys don't need any excuse to get up for a game against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, Green was confident his side would want to celebrate Winterstein's milestone in style.
"I think deep down there's a lot of respect for Antonio in the team and I'm sure the boys would like to repay that with a good performance," he said.