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North Queensland Toyota Cowboys centre Kane Linnett says the team is working overtime on the training paddock to get their preparation spot-on for what is shaping as a crucial Round 24 encounter at 1300SMILES Stadium this Saturday.

Linnett is in the middle of a reshuffled Cowboys backline with fellow centre Justin O’Neill (elbow) ruled out through injury, as teenage flyer Kalyn Ponga is poised to return to the NRL fold for the first time since Round 9.

Linnett and his teammates spent a little longer than usual on the field on Wednesday, finetuning their prep ahead of a match which, if they win, will seal their place in a seventh straight finals series.

O’Neill’s injury is the latest in a string of casualties for the Cowboys, with back-rower Shaun Fensom (knee) also out of action this weekend after he hurt himself last-start against the Panthers.

Add to that a two-week absence of skipper Gavin Cooper (calf) and winger Antonio Winterstein (hamstring), and the Cowboys could well be forgiven for thinking they’ve collectively walked under a ladder while tripping over a black cat of late.

“Obviously we’ve got a few players out injured, and that makes combinations at training a bit trickier and it will take a bit longer for certain things to click,” Linnett said.

“But that’s why we did a little bit extra and we know that we need to get things right there so we’re set to go on game night.”

Linnett said his wing partner from last Saturday’s game, Javid Bowen, would handle a move into the centres just fine, with Linnett tipped to move to the right edge to partner Kyle Feldt in O’Neill’s absence, and Bowen forming an inexperienced but dynamic left-edge combination with teenager Kalyn Ponga.

“Javid’s been playing really well in the Queensland Cup of late and last week in his return to the NRL; he’s been training strongly, so I’m confident he’ll put in another strong showing on Saturday night. He’s played a fair bit of centre,” he said.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 7.30pm.

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.