Gold Coast playmaker Scott Prince fears North Queensland will gain extra motivation to upset the Titans in Friday's NRL blockbuster amid claims they can't win without Test halfback Johnathan Thurston.
Cowboys skipper Thurston is recovering from off-season surgery on both shoulders and is unlikely to return to NRL action until round five.
Since he joined the club from the Bulldogs at the end of 2004, North Queensland has won just three out of 11 games with their star player on the sideline.
"Statistics show they struggle without JT (Thurston) but I'm sick of reading about it," Prince told AAP.
"I can only imagine what the other Cowboy players are feeling about it.
"They must feel like `we're out to prove them wrong'.
"It's actually a scary thought from an opposition point of view that a committed Cowboys side will turn up on Friday night ready to play us and show people in the rugby league world that they can win without Johnathan Thurston.
"It's a dangerous sign from our point of view."
Titans coach John Cartwright doesn't believe the absence of dual Dally M Medal winner Thurston will impact too heavily on North Queensland.
"They're the Cowboys and they've made grand finals and semi-finals for the last three or four years," he said.
"Whether he's there or not doesn't really come into the equation for us.
"They're going to be strong. There's a lot of hype around the game and they've got a lot of experienced state and international players in their side.
"I think for their first game of the year they're not going to miss JT too much."
Thurston has already expressed concerns he may lose his Queensland Origin and Test jumpers to either Prince and Melbourne's Cooper Cronk due to his absence from the opening month of the competition.
Prince has looked in superb touch in pre-season trial wins over his old clubs North Queensland and Wests Tigers and his combination with new five-eighth Mat Rogers should only improve as the year progresses.
"He's just continued from where he left off last year," said Cartwright, who faced a tough task in selecting an 18-man squad.
Sydney Roosters recruit Ashley Harrison won the battle with Luke Swain for the lock spot while Jordan Atkins was preferred on the wing ahead of Brenton Bowen, who has missed a chance to play against his cousin, Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen.
Cartwright said competition for berths had been intense and indicated Ian Donnelly and Matt Cross were others unlucky to miss the christening of new stadium Skilled Park.
Swain didn't hide his disappointment at being relegated to Queensland Cup side Tweed Heads for the first time.
"It was my spot last year and I've been outrun," the red-headed back-rower said.
"You just have to cop it on the chin.
"A kick in the arse always fires you up."
Gold Coast: Preston Campbell, Ben Jeffery, Luke O'Dwyer, Brett Delaney, Jordan Atkins, Mat Rogers, Scott Prince (capt), Luke Bailey (capt), Nathan Friend, Michael Hodgson, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minichiello, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Aaron Cannings, Daniel Conn, Josh Graham, Clint Amos, James Stosic (one to be omitted).Like