Cowboys coach up front with backline - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Cowboys coach up front with backline

By Laine Clark 18/08/2009 07:52:11 PM Comments (0)

No one was safe from North Queensland coach Neil Henry's criticism ahead of their "do or die" NRL clash against Newcastle - not even inspirational skipper Johnathan Thurston.

Henry pulled no punches when asked where the Cowboys (11th; 10-11 record) needed to improve ahead of their crunch game against a resurgent Knights at Newcastle on Saturday.

"We need our outside backs to contribute," Henry said bluntly after making several key changes following four losses in their last five games.

"I thought (fullback) Matty Bowen had a very quiet game, his running metres were way down (25m).

"And JT (Thurston) didn't have many runs either, three (making 30m) - his last was in the 78th minute.

"We lacked a bit of punch on the back of a fair bit of momentum (from their forwards).

"I will be looking for our backs to be playing better."

Despite his assessment, Henry kept his backline intact - including Willie Tonga despite the Queensland Origin rep suffering a sickening head knock with Jamal Idris in last round's 22-12 loss to the Bulldogs.

Instead he injected Travis Burns and Antonio Kaufusi onto a six-man bench that also included long term injury concern Ben Harris.

Henry said it was time the Cowboys' experienced ranks stepped up to the plate in a crucial match for North Queensland's top eight hopes.

It ensures veteran Harris will be considered despite completing just two Queensland Cup games following a hamstring tear.

"It really is a do or die game for us," Henry said of the Newcastle game.

"We need our experienced players to step up and play a leading role.

"It's going to be tough there on the back of their very good, enthusiastic performance (against Melbourne on Monday night).

"We are looking for him (Harris) to step up and show that experience that he has got and bounce back into a bit of form.

"He can certainly contribute and he needs to.

"He is a chance (of playing against Newcastle). We have discussed him and Steve Southern (being named on the bench) - it will be a choice of those two."

Henry brushed off concerns over Tonga despite admitting the Origin star had experienced headaches following last Friday night's incident.

"He's fine. He's had some headaches earlier in the week, but we had a couple of days' break, he has settled down - he is expected to play," he said.

Henry stressed how much the Cowboys needed an in-form Tonga against the Knights.

"We certainly came up with some errors our wide (against the Bulldogs)," he said.

"(Winger) Michael Bani had a quiet game, Willie Tonga went off early in the second half and we missed him because he really was going well on that edge.

"(Centre) Ash Graham, it was his first game back (from injury) and he will be better for the run - I think he will be more involved this weekend.

"We will need to be at our best (against Newcastle)."

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