Toyota Cowboys coach Paul Green says the experience young winger Curtis Rona gained at the NRL Auckland Nines should help him get through his NRL debut against Manly on Friday night.
The lanky 21-year-old was today selected as Antonio Winterstein’s replacement on the left flank, giving him a great chance to push for a more permanent place in North Queensland’s starting 13.
Rona was one of the stars of the Cowboys’ victory in the Nines, including scoring two tries in the final against Brisbane despite carrying a broken thumb which then kept him on the sidelines for a month.
He has played for the Mackay Cutters in the Intrust Super Cup in the past two weeks and has fully recovered from a quad strain sustained in his comeback game.
Green today said Rona, who played his junior football in Western Australia before linking with the Sydney Roosters, would have challenged for a round one NRL position had he not been hit with his Nines injury.
“Curtis had a really good pre-season and a fantastic tournament at the Nines,” the coach said.
“He had a couple of little injury setbacks but he gets his chance this week.
“He’s a big guy, he’s certainly good in the air and I think he’ll do a good job returning kicks for us.
“He should get a fair bit of confidence out of that Nines tournament.
“He played really well over there and that was competing against the best in the NRL.
“It’s his debut so I’m sure he’ll be looking to put his best foot forward.”
Green said Gavin Cooper’s fitness would be monitored this week before a final decision would be made on the 17 to play Manly.
The back-rower came off with a knee injury midway through the first half against the Tigers.
Glenn Hall has been included on a five-man bench after playing for the Cutters for the past fortnight.
“The main thing I wanted Hally to get back there was a bit of match fitness and game time under his belt,” Green said.
“He’s only been playing 15 or 20-minute stints for us and if you do that regularly eventually your match fitness suffers.”