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Home-town hero O'Neill on verge of century

He is among an exclusive group of players to win premierships at two clubs and is about to add another feather to his cap.

North Queensland centre Justin O'Neill reaches the 100-game milestone for the club on Saturday when the Cowboys hit the road for a must-win game against Canberra.

"We saw a couple of boys [Michael Morgan and Kyle Feldt] make their milestone games last week for the club and they spoke about how special it was playing their junior footy here, and for me that's the same," O'Neill said.

“Growing up playing my junior footy in Townsville and getting my chance to play for the Cowboys was always a dream. To say I’ve played a hundred games will be pretty special, so it’s something I'm looking forward to.

“Another thing that was spoken about was that when you play a hundred games at the club your name goes down on the board and ingrained in history, that's pretty special to me as well.”

Recruited by Melbourne after standing out as a junior in Townsville, O'Neill debuted with the Storm in 2010, winning a premiership with the club in 2012.

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He joined the Cowboys in 2015, winning a premiership in the same season before earning Queensland and Australian selection in 2016.

Despite the Cowboys' ordinary form this year, O'Neill has been a shining light with seven tries in seven games.

Signed until the end of the 2021 season, the 28-year-old told NRL.com that the 2015 premiership stands out as his career highlight.

“I definitely can't go past the grand final," he said.

"It was a pretty special game in itself the way it panned out, an amazing win and game to be a part of.”

O’Neill has had his share of ups and downs when it comes to form, even having to spend some time in the Intrust Super Cup earlier this season to work on a few things.

He admits it’s a challenge to perform at an elite level week in and week out.

“Yeah it's tough," he said.

"I'm getting on in the back end of my career and it's challenging physically, but I think the massive tests and the challenges at the start of the year, and throughout the season, is always about mentally trying to be switched on and turning up ready to play each game.

“There's always reasons to get up for games but it's a long season and I think sometimes your body can be feeling off and you might not have recovered as quick as you wanted to during the week, and that can play a part in how you feel leading into a game."

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O’Neill’s consistency and lethal ball running in 2016 paid off with selection in the Queensland Origin team, an honour he hopes will be bestowed upon him again one day.

“Oh yeah I'd love to be able to get the chance to play Origin again," he said.

"I know there's a lot of talk about it at the moment, but it hasn't really been something I’ve thought of this year. It was more just getting back to some form. I feel like I'm getting back to some form I'm happy with, and that's the main thing for me at the moment.”

When it comes to personal goals this year and beyond, getting through a season without injury is at the top of O'Neill's list.

“First and foremost is to go through a season injury free and be fit and ready for next year as well," he said.

"Also, for our team to be within range of playing finals footy because that's what we're all striving for and train hard in the preseason for, to be playing finals footy and a chance of playing in the GF."

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When asked if it was too late to make the finals with his beloved club this year, O’Neill was firm in his response.

“No, there is still hope," he insisted.

"We string a couple of wins together and that's going to be very important. I'm not sure how we're going to find them. It might be scrapping for everything - really gutsy wins would definitely get us there but we need to win games.

“Some games I don't know what it's going to take, but we're going to need everything to win those games and we just need to and move our season forward.”