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Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill.

A refreshed Justin O'Neill said the battle for spots in the outside backs at North Queensland had provided added inspiration heading into the 2019 Telstra Premiership.

The arrival of Tom Opacic and Jordan Kahu and the form shown by Ben Hampton  and Enari Tuala in the centres for the Cowboys in 2018 leaves O'Neill facing a battle to lock down a starting spot for round one.

At this stage Kahu has the inside running for the fullback jersey, but he may spend time in the front line at different stages this year.

"We've got a lot of talent in the young guys coming through, we've got some new centres and outside backs so it's starting to fill up."

"It's making the position a lot harder to keep," O’Neill admits.

O'Neill, who has played 92 matches in the four seasons moving from the Melbourne Storm to the Cowboys, said the 2018 campaign was one he and his teammates were happy to put a line through.

Cowboys season preview - NRL Teams

"I think you have to put behind you what was done previously but have things to work on and improve on for pre-season training and make sure you're ticking all the boxes coming into round one," he said.

O'Neill believes the defensive resilience shown by North Queensland was the most encouraging aspect of last Saturday's 14-6 trial win over the Storm in Mackay.

"I think our defence was a good step in the right direction compared to last year," he said.

"If we can improve or keep that standard that'll be good leading into the season."

On a personal note, O'Neill knows the competition for spots will force him to add more to the skill set he can offer coach Paul Green.

Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill.
Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill. ©Shane Wenzlick/NRL Photos.

"There's always things the previous year you want to improve on the following year and I think as I've gotten older there's areas that I want to improve on each pre-season," he said.

"It's something I've probably worked on more coming into the pre-season, starting off as best I can and really try to improve on certain areas like defence and attack."

When asked about the lewd videos involving NRL players that have emerged in recent months, O’Neill said players needed to be aware of their place in society.

"We have to realize the responsibilities we have as NRL players and how we're seen in the public eye, we're role models essentially,” he said.

"Social media is changing and technology is getting more advanced and I think we have to grow with that.

"[It is all about] keeping a tight-knit bubble [as a playing group] and making sure we're doing the right things - not adding to the pressure of the NRL."


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