North Queensland coach Neil Henry admits retiring hooker Aaron Payne is in “some doubt” for Friday night’s knockout NRL semi-final against Manly in Sydney.
Hopes for a remarkable recovery from a knee injury were raised when the Cowboys stalwart featured in a 19-strong squad set to fly out for Sydney on Thursday.
However, Henry said a final verdict on Payne’s fitness could be made by Wednesday.
Payne limped off the field in the 11th minute of the Cowboys’ 33-16 NRL elimination final win over the Broncos in Townsville last weekend amid fears he had played his last game for North Queensland.
“He was much better the day after the game but we will know much more when he sees a specialist and a ball session tomorrow,” Henry said on Tuesday.
“It is still quite sore but it is not as bad as it was so he is walking around.
“We put his name in there but you would have to say he is in some doubt.”
James Segeyaro – who has made a remarkable return from what was initially deemed a season-ending ankle complaint – will slot in at No.9 with utility Anthony Mitchell as back-up hooker if Payne succumbs.
Henry on Tuesday added Mitchell and back-rower Joel Riethmuller to the 17 that knocked the Broncos out of the finals race in Townsville last Saturday night.
“It’s a credit to him, he is playing good footy,” Henry said of Segeyaro.
“Anthony was unlucky to miss out, he didn’t do anything wrong.
“But he will get his opportunity if Payney is not right.”
Henry dismissed concerns surrounding co-captain Matt Scott and in-form backrower Gavin Cooper (both shoulder).