North Queensland coach Paul Green says a utility bench spot and a forward pack berth are “up for grabs” ahead of the NRL season kick-off.
After the weekend’s Auckland Nines, Green said he was ready for the “serious stuff” as he looked to finalise his best 17 for next month’s season opener.
Green said he would start by running the rule over a young forward pack and new recruit, ex-Melbourne utility Ben Hampton, at Saturday night’s NRL trial against Sydney Roosters at Mackay.
The coach said he was no closer to settling on a new pack since the off-season departures of Test prop James Tamou (Penrith) and former Queensland forward Ben Hannant (retirement).
Young forwards Coen Hess, Patrick Kaufusi, Braden Uele, train-and-triallist Will Budgen and new faces Shane Wright and Corey Jensen will vie for NRL round one nods when they run out against the Roosters pack.
Co-captain Matt Scott, reigning Dally M medallist Jason Taumalalo and fellow veteran prop Scott Bolton will spearhead the Cowboys forwards in Mackay.
Asked if he had settled on a front row, Green said: “I am not set on the starting pack at this stage.
“There’s a few guys in the mix.
“It just depends on what balance I want and how we want to play.
“We want to see young guys putting their hands up saying ‘I want to be an NRL player’.”
Green said Hampton and PNG international Ray Thompson were in the running to fill the utility bench role vacated by Rory Kostjasyn (Newcastle).
“Similar to the front row position, that is a spot up for grabs,” the Cowboys coach said.
“Ben Hampton is new to the club and I would like to see how he goes on the weekend.
“Ray Thompson is also in the mix for that utility spot which Rory held down for us the last few years.
“So I am keen to see how they play and I will make a decision when it gets closer.”
Green looked forward to finally launching their NRL pre-season after enjoying a weekend of nines in Auckland.
“This is the start of the serious stuff,” he said.
“I am not that concerned about the result.
“But there are a few things in attack and defence that I want to see happen, things we have been working on all pre-season.”
North Queensland also play Wests Tigers at Campbelltown on February 17 before their NRL season opener against Canberra in Townsville on March 4.