Hannay may be back for Cowboys

Injured sharpshooter Josh Hannay rates himself a 70-30 chance of bolstering the Cowboys' Origin-depleted backline for Sunday's NRL clash against St-George Illawarra.

North Queensland is without five of its starting backs due to Queensland's preparations for Origin II on June 15, making Hannay's quick return from injury crucial.

The goalkicking centre set himself the goal of making a speedy recovery in time for the round 14 match at OKI Jubilee Stadium after dislocating his shoulder in the 23-6 loss to Brisbane four weeks ago.

At the time, club medicos predicted a likely six-week spell on the sidelines for the 25-year-old, who played one match for the Maroons in 2003.

But Hannay was named to start in the centres after coming through his first contact session, which included tackling and wrestling, unscathed.

"I'm pretty hopeful that it will improve as the week goes on and I will be right for the game," he said.

"I'd say I'm 70-30 but it's one of those injuries where it gets better each day. I think by game time I'll be pretty close to 100 per cent."

With Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Matt Sing, Paul Bowman and Johnathan Thurston all on Origin duties, along with forward Carl Webb, Hannay believed he had to step up immediately.

"There's definitely going to be a hole left in the backline with those five guys gone," he said.

"Obviously we still got a lot of forward depth and forward strength but our backline is going to be a bit light on."

Cowboys coach Graham Murray will wait until the weekend before making a final call on Hannay but "won't take too many risks".

In a test of depth for both clubs, the ninth-placed Dragons are without five Origin players of their own with playmaker Trent Barrett, centres Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper and props Luke Bailey and Jason Ryles all retained by NSW.

For the third-placed Cowboys, only former South Sydney back-rower Justin Smith keeps his same position in the backline from the 56-14 thrashing of Cronulla.

Smith has only been shaded by Dally M frontrunner Thurston as the Cowboys' "find of the year" after surprising with his ability to adapt to five-eighth.

"He's showing more versatility than anyone at the club thought he had," Hannay said.

"Last week he looked dangerous every time he ran at the line so if he can continue in that vein he'll be good for us."

Impact player Jacob Lillyman gets his first start, replacing Webb in the only change to the NQ pack.

Murray said the trek down to Kogarah held no fears for his team, which won both matches over the Dragons last year.

"We don't go there with any worries," he said.

"They're a good football team and on their day they can punish you but we're in pretty good form ourselves."

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