They call them trials for a reason, and for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, Friday’s tough, testing two-point win over Wests Tigers in Campbelltown came with a mixtures of pleasing aspects, some injury concerns and things to work on ahead of their NRL opener in less than a fortnight.
Club staff yesterday confirmed that winger Antonio Winterstein’s ankle injury – incurred within the first five minutes of the match – will force the seasoned campaigner to the sidelines for several weeks, with a scheduled comeback of Round 3-4.
The Samoan international has scans in Sydney on Friday and joined his teammates en route to Queenstown, New Zealand where the team is midway through a pre-season camp.
Fellow winger Kyle Feldt also left the field on Friday, benched under the league’s concussion protocol, but will be available for Round 1 selection when the Cowboys host the Canberra Raiders on Saturday 4 March.
Head coach Paul Green was forced into position reshuffle when Winterstein went down, with centre Kane Linnett moved to the wing and workhorse back-rower Ethan Lowe playing 75 of his 80 minutes at left centre.
Just two 13-a-side games into a return to the field from a lengthy injury layoff, Lowe said he felt in good shape after the Tigers trial, even if the game plan didn’t go exactly to script.
“Yeah, I played most of the game in the centres, but the original plan was for me to spend some time in the middle too, so I kind of went the other way,” Lowe said after the match.
“I would have liked to play more minutes on that (back row) edge, but these things happen in games and you have to be prepared for everything."
Lowe, who had back surgery in the off-season, said he was pleased with the way his body has responded to playing in two tough trial matches – on Friday in Campbelltown and against the Rooters in Mackay the weekend prior.
“It’s been good to get through these last two games as they’ve both been pretty physical.”
Lowe and five-eighth Michael Morgan both said there were things to like and things to work on out of the Tigers trial, with errors in vulnerable positions on the field a worry.
“The game was played a lot down the middle, our middle third worked hard and scrambled well,” Morgan said.
“To scramble the way we did down our own end is a positive but the Tigers had 50 play-the-balls inside our 20m (zone), which comes largely down to turning over possession in those vulnerable areas.
“Errors coming out of our own end was a negative and so was (the concession of) penalties inside their half … so we let them off a bit easy a few times.”
Of the performance, Lowe said: “It was scrappy to say the least. Attack-wise, we didn’t really get into a rhythm. We defended well on the edge, and on the line we were great."
“They scored a few tries off some kicks which was unfortunate, but overall scrappy.”
With Winterstein likely ruled out of the Raiders season-opener, Javid Bowen, Kalyn Ponga and Gideon Gela-Mosby all shape as legitimate contenders for that left wing spot when Green names his first team for the season on Tuesday week.