Our newest 'old' North Queensland Toyota Cowboy Blake Leary is ready to go as the unlikely starting hooker for his fourth ever game in Cowboys colours, some four-and-a-half years after his club debut.
The 26-year-old Gold Coast product – who played two games for the Cowboys in his first stint across the 2012-13 seasons, before linking with Manly for 2015-16 – ventured back north in the summer where he linked with the Townsville Blackhawks, one of three Cowboys’ feeder teams.
From there, he trained with the Cowboys over the pre-season before returning to the Blackhawks where he has been plying his trade in the Queensland Cup.
But solid form at the second-tier coupled with a rash of simultaneous injuries to players in key positions means the gravel-voiced forward gets an unlikely, yet welcomed, second shot as an NRL Cowboy.
He was a late inclusion on the bench against Wests Tigers in Round 6, but comes into the starting 13 in the hooker’s role this weekend against the Dragons, after Johnathan Thurston’s injury-induced absence forced coach Paul Green into a positional reshuffle.
Bench forward Shaun Fensom (ankle) is also out injured after playing just a handful of minutes against the Tigers.
Leary has played just one of his 30 NRL matches in the No.9, and readily admits it’s not his preferred position.
But he is relishing the chance to reignite his top-grade ambitions at the club that handed him an NRL debut in 2012.
“It’s all happened pretty fast actually. Unfortunately, with a few injuries over at the Cowboys, I get my chance,” Leary said.
“I’m not exactly a dummy-half but I’ll play anywhere if I get my chance to play at NRL level again, so I’m excited by the opportunity.”
Leary said he played a bit of hooker with the Sea Eagles coming off the bench as a utility, so he was somewhat familiar with the role, adding he was prepared to play the full 80 minutes if required.
It’s a distinct possibility as last week’s starting hooker, Ben Hampton, will play halfback, leaving Green with no genuine backup hooker on his interchange bench.
Silky-skilled big man John Asiata can be expected to play some minutes in a de facto halves role alongside five-eighth Michael Morgan, allowing Hampton to relieve Leary as the dummy-half if required.
“I think I’ve played the 80 just a couple of times, but whatever’s required, I’m up for,” Leary said.
Saturday’s game at WIN Stadium kicks off at 7.30pm.