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5 days ago
North Queensland will be out to prove they are more than a two-man team when they confront Cronulla without electric fullback Matt Bowen and Test halfback Johnathan Thurston in Saturday night's NRL clash.
Bowen has been ruled out for up to three weeks and the Cowboys will almost certainly be without Thurston at Dairy Farmers Stadium, despite him passing a fitness test on a partial ligament tear in his left ankle.
The champion halfback rolled the ankle at Kangaroos training and had been in serious doubt for the Centenary Test against New Zealand.
Cowboys coach Graham Murray conceded Thurston was highly unlikely to be right for club duties.
"I am not sure if he will back up, I think he would have to be pretty lucky to get through two on a weekend," Murray told reporters.
While the Cowboys coaching staff have been busy preparing contingency plans for the loss of Thurston or Kangaroos forward Carl Webb, they have been boosted by the return of former Test lock Luke O'Donnell after hip surgery.
It is expected Manly recruit Travis Burns will take over at halfback with Justin Smith dropping out of the pack to five-eighth and O'Donnell coming into the side.
"We have thought about combinations all week but the players are aware what we are going to do," Murray said.
"That was our job earlier in the week.
"We have been talking to the players about possible combinations and we are comfortable with our decisions."
O'Donnell's return couldn't have come at a better time for the Cowboys as the club endures yet another horror run of injuries and suspensions.
In the forward pack alone, Matthew Scott (ankle), Shane Tronc (shoulder), Sione Faumuina (groin) and Jacob Lillyman (suspension) are unavailable.
"Luke trained at the end of last week and he has done a couple of contact sessions this week," Murray said.
"He has convinced the medical staff and himself that he is fit to play this weekend.
"It is a welcome boost the medical staff have cleared Luke and he is keen to play and you want your best players on the field."
The Sharks also face the prospect of a reshuffle should Greg Bird or Paul Gallen not back-up from Friday's match against the Kiwis.
Coach Ricky Stuart has named a six-man bench with two names to be trimmed if his backrow duo play.
The seventh-placed Sharks have won four-from-five away this year but have scored the least number of points in the league, 103 at an average of just under 15 per game.
The Cowboys are running second last but have scored 170 points at 21 per game.
Both sides are last-start losers, the Cowboys South Sydney's first victims of 2008 last weekend and the Sharks going down to the Wests Tigers before their bye in round seven.