North Queensland veteran Matt Scott is set to overcome a nasty leg infection in time to help repel the NRL’s biggest forward pack in the Cowboys’ Saturday season opener against Canberra.
Scott spent Tuesday night in hospital after a boil on his leg became infected and missed training twice this week, but came through Friday’s session unscathed, if a little groggy.
Coach Paul Green rates him as a better than 50-50 chance of playing.
But with props Ben Hannant and James Tamou no longer at the club, and the Raiders’ first-choice pack tipping the scales at a whopping 657kg this season, Green admits they really can’t afford to be without him.
“They’re a huge pack and they play a pretty physical style of game, too. He’s pretty important for us,” he said.
“He was certainly a bit flat, still probably feeling the effects a little bit, so we’ll just make sure he pulls up alright.
“He’s a pretty tough sort of guy – he likes playing. That probably persuades me to be (optimistic).”
However, the Cowboys are likely to be without Antonio Winterstein, after spraining his ankle in a trial match last month and not yet fully recovering.
Javid Bowen is in line to replace him on the left wing – not Newcastle-bound teenager Kalyn Ponga – because Green believes his size and experience will match up well against Canberra’s explosive right-edge combination of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana.
“That’s their strongest side so we need to be physical down that side of the field. They’ll test you – they test everyone,” he said.
However, Green sees an opportunity on the other side of 1300SMILES Stadium for the Cowboys.
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker (knee) will miss the start of the season, while Edrick Lee is at Cronulla, meaning they’ll field a new left-side pairing – and Green senses they’ll be vulnerable.
Back-rower Elliot Whitehead has been named out of position at left centre and youngster Nick Cotric will debut on the wing.
“It’s a big night for him. It’s always good when you see guys make their debut and they’ve got big raps on him,” Green said.
“(But) we’ll probably put that edge under a bit of pressure.”
The match is the first of six at home for the Cowboys across the first nine rounds.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Canberra won 15 of their first 18 matches against the Cowboys, but have won just five of the past 18, including just three of 11 since 2011
* North Queensland had a near-perfect record at home in 2016, winning 12 of 13 matches including the first nine straight
* Canberra struggled on the road in the first half of last season, winning just two of the opening seven matches away from home