All of North Queensland’s State of Origin stars are back.
But the Cowboys say the rest of the team must stand up if they are to keep their NRL title defence hopes alive.
North Queensland are set to welcome all five of their Origin stars plus returning pivot Michael Morgan (knee) for Thursday night’s clash with the Bulldogs in Townsville.
The return of Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper and Justin O’Neill and Blues prop James Tamou could not have been better timed for the Cowboys ahead of the top four NRL showdown.
However, centre Kane Linnett said it would not be up to their stars to inspire North Queensland in the run to the NRL finals.
“Greeny (North Queensland coach Paul Green) said to us last week that the boys who aren’t in Origin are a big part of the squad and it’s up to us to lift enthusiasm,” he said.
“Because we know those (Origin) guys will do their job, now it’s up to the rest of us.
“Hopefully we get on a good run into the finals.”
Hooker Jake Granville was a revelation in the Cowboys’ premiership year and hoped more unheralded North Queensland players stood tall during their title defence.
“It’s good to have those Origin guys back but I thought we had been preparing well without those guys,” Granville said.
“If the guys who aren’t in Origin can take it to the next level, the Origin guys will be a bonus.”
North Queensland (3rd; 11-6 record) remained in touch with the NRL leaders by going through the Origin period with a 3-3 tally.
“Everyone is excited for the run in (to finals),” Cowboys co-captain Scott said ahead of the showdown with the fourth-ranked Dogs.
“We definitely have a lot of improvement in us.
“We haven’t played our best footy over the past couple of months – it has been disjointed with Origin.
“We haven’t played up to our standards.
“It’s important the next seven games we improve and play our best footy.”