Nine members of last year’s victorious North Queensland Toyota Cowboys squad will return to Eden Park for the defence of the NRL Auckland Nines title this weekend.
Back-rower Gavin Cooper will again skipper the Cowboys whose lineup includes three players – Justin O’Neill, Kelepi Tanginoa and Jake Granville – who are new to the club in season 2015 as well as second year NYC forward Coen Hess who has trained with the NRL squad during pre-season.
A junior from Mt Isa, Hess was part of the Townsville Stingers’ national title winning under-18s team last season, while O’Neill joined the Cowboys from Melbourne, Tanginoa from Parramatta and Granville from Brisbane.
Joining Cooper in backing up from last year’s memorable triumph is the breakout player of the 2014 tournament, Kyle Feldt, as well as Michael Morgan, Ray Thompson, Robert Lui, Rory Kostjasyn, Jason Taumalolo, Zac Santo and Javid Bowen.
Tautau Moga, Matthew Wright, John Asiata, Ethan Lowe and Ben Spina will be the other Nines debutants for the Cowboys.
Coach Paul Green said the 18-man squad gives him plenty of options for North Queensland’s attempt at back-to-back titles.
“I’m treating this as an opportunity for some of our young blokes to shine,” Green said.
“There’s no pressure on results so that helps them to go out there and enjoy their footy and perhaps take a few risks.
“The format encourages you to throw the ball around a bit more.
“I think you’ll see some really good attacking flair and natural footy instincts from our side.”
The reigning champions will leave for New Zealand early on Wednesday morning and will be part of the festival and fan zone in Aotea Square in downtown Auckland from 10am to 11am on Friday.
Their pool matches will be against Melbourne, South Sydney and Penrith with the top two teams advancing to the quarter-finals.
COWBOYS NINES SQUAD: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Justin O’Neill, 3 Tautau Moga, 4 Kyle Feldt, 5 Matthew Wright, 6 Ray Thompson, 7 Robert Lui, 8 John Asiata, 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Kelepi Tanginoa, 11 Gavin Cooper (c), 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo, 14 Jake Granville, 15 Zac Santo, 16 Coen Hess, 17 Javid Bowen, 18 Ben Spina.