If any team knows how dangerous North Queensland can still be through the State of Origin period, it’s St George Illawarra.
The eventual premiers – minus Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Matt Scott and James Tamou – shocked the then-fourth-placed Dragons 18-12 at WIN Stadium last year, just four days out from the third State of Origin match.
The Cowboys are even more affected ahead of this Saturday night’s clash at the same venue, with centre Justin O’Neill also named to make his Queensland Origin debut.
Meanwhile the Dragons will lose only Josh Dugan to Origin duties for Saturday’s battle, with second-rower Tyson Frizell returning to the team after being left out of Laurie Daley’s eventual final 17 for NSW.
But with back-rowers Jack de Belin and Ben Creagh still missing through injury, Dragons coach Paul McGregor doesn’t believe either side will carry an added-advantage into the match.
“They talk about the Cowboys, they’re only missing five players, we’ve been missing five players for a few weeks, but all the concern is over there,” McGregor said.
“I don’t think we let it slip last year.
“The game was high-quality last year, they completed high, we completed high, we had a lot of players missing as well.”
Meanwhile, Jason Nightingale will shift to from centre to fullback for the Dragons in the absence of Dugan.
“Jason has played fullback before for the club, he’s been highly successful in that position,” McGregor said.
“He’s an experienced played, a seasoned player and that’s what you need in these times.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green has named one-time Gold Coast player Jahrome Hughes at five-eighth.
“He’s been one of the form players in the (Queensland) Cup so that’s a pretty good indication for me,” Green said.
“He’s as good of a player as anyone else that we’ve got as an option, so I’m actually excited for what he can bring to the game.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* St George Illawarra have lost five of their past six against North Queensland, including a 36-0 loss to the Cowboys in Round 5.
* St George Illawarra have won just four of 12 games without Josh Dugan since he arrived at the club midway through 2013.
* North Queensland have won just six of their last 16 without Johnathan Thurston, but two of their past three.