North Queensland coach Paul Green has named an unchanged squad from last year’s grand final triumph to tackle Cronulla in their NRL season opener on Saturday in Townsville.
Both clubs will look to make amends from a sluggish start to last year, with the Cowboys going 0-3 and the Sharks 0-4 to start the 2015 season.
Green said the first-round clash would be a good gauge on pre-season progress.
“We have had a good pre-season but they are always tough,” he said.
“February was a pretty hectic month with the Auckland Nines and the World Club Challenge.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge to manage all that and make sure we get the boys right for Saturday night,” Green said.
The Cowboys are set to run out in front of their home fans for the first time since claiming the premiership in the decider against Brisbane.
Green said the new season brought a new set of challenges.
“Whilst we won the premiership last year, we also recognised we need to be better in a few areas,” he said.
“It’s a new season, each season holds different challenges and I’m sure this one will be no different.”
The Cowboys were dealt a major blow following the loss of Ray Thompson ahead of their trip to England and subsequent World Club victory.
Thompson faces up to 14 weeks on the sidelines after fracturing his ankle last month while training with the Indigenous All Stars side.
Green said the gruelling pre-season was just the tip of the iceberg.
“NRL seasons are long and tough,” he said.
“The Origin period is always a challenge for us and I’m sure that will be the same this year.”
Cronulla will be out get revenge this weekend after being pummelled by the Cowboys in last year’s semi-finals in a one-sided match.
Green said his squad was preparing for a tough hitout in the season opener.
“They (Sharks) have a very good pack of forwards so I can imagine it will be a pretty physical battle,” he said.
“They didn’t start particularly well as a club last year and I know that’s something they have spoken about this year.
“We are probably in the same boat so it will be interesting from that point of view.”