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Henry throws down challenge to Cowboys

05/07/2011 07:25:49 PM Comments (0)

The return of Willie Tonga - and Brent Tate's imminent comeback - have prompted a daunting challenge from North Queensland coach Neil Henry.

After throwing the welcome mat out for his stars, Henry said it was now up to the new-look Cowboys to show just how good they were with a top four NRL finish in sight.

"All we have done so far this season is give ourselves an opportunity to be in the finals at the back end of the year and to be top four," Henry said on Tuesday of the Cowboys (4th; 10-5 record).

"It's very tight (on the NRL ladder) - we need to step up if we are serious about being a top four team.

"We welcome back Willie Tonga this week and Brent Tate the week after (so) we are pretty well full strength - it will be up to us whether we are good enough."

Representative centre Tonga will make his long-awaited return from a shoulder injury against the sixth-placed Knights in Newcastle on Monday night.

Tonga has been sidelined since bravely playing out the State of Origin series opener in May, missing five Cowboys matches.

He got the green light after undergoing contact work this week with Tate - but the latter will not be considered until their next home clash the following Saturday night against Wests Tigers.

Henry said it was not worth the risk using Tate in two games in five days.

The former Test centre is coming back from his third knee reconstruction.

Co-captains - and Queensland Origin teammates - Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott as well as interchange forward Joel Riethmuller (Queensland Residents) are listed to back up from Wednesday's representative commitments.

Henry also included ex-Knight Cory Paterson in his 18-man squad - meaning the second rower is a chance of making his North Queensland debut against his former club.

Paterson made a mid-season transfer up north after it became apparent he wasn't in incoming coach Wayne Bennett's plans for Newcastle next year.

The 23-year-old turned out for Northern Pride two weeks ago in his first match since minor knee surgery.

Hooker Aaron Payne has been included by Henry but is only rated a "50-50" chance to return from a finger fracture he suffered two weeks ago.

Payne is still wearing a special hand guard.

"At the moment, it's settling down and players have played with broken hands before," Henry said.

"But it is to do with the index finger and you have to be able to grip and pass the ball so he would be in a fair amount of doubt."

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