Interim Cowboys coach Josh Hannay won't rush Michael Morgan back for next week's Queensland derby in a blow for the luckless playmaker's chances of playing State of Origin in November.
Morgan returned to light training this week after suffering a calf injury against the Sharks in round 16 but Hannay put the red line through his chances of lining up against the Broncos.
The Cowboys' 2020 campaign can't end soon enough after a 32-12 loss to premiership contenders Penrith on Friday night was compounded by news Morgan may have played his last game of the year.
"I'd be surprised if Morgo is right," Hannay said.
"I think for Mick at the moment it's about getting his body right.
"Whether he's right for Origin or not, who knows, but he needs to get his body right."
Challenge leads to Hammer time
Todd Payten will take on the top job next season but Hannay reiterated talk earlier in the week that the club could take a leaf out of the Panthers' successful development system.
The Cowboys have blooded several local juniors in a trying year, including teenage sensation Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, and Hannay said the difficult results would toughen the players up for the future.
"For us as a young footy side, Penrith are a lesson in where we want to get to as a club, not only with how they develop players but how they're playing," Hannay said.
Drinkwater chances his arm on the last
"There's a reason they sit where they sit and we sit where we sit. There's some hard lessons being learned at the moment but they're lessons you've got to go through at some point in your career.
"Rarely do you come into grade in an environment where it's all roses. This will hold them in good stead and they'll look back on this period in our development and regeneration as a squad.
"I'm seeing improvement in individuals and they'll be better for this come next year."
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said there was no reason why the Cowboys couldn't replicate what the Western Sydney club did and placed a focus on their juniors.
"If that's the mandate of the Cowboys and what they want to be," Cleary said.
"The club has had a lot of success for a long time. Coming here today you can see the development, new stadium and new coach – if that's the way they go.
"You've also got to have a little bit of patience if you're going to bring young guys through."