Cowboys' 2017 National Youth Competition team

NYC Cowboys v Sea Eagles
11.15am Sunday, Allianz Stadium
Tickets: nrl.com/tickets
Broadcast: Fox League (live)

The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys under-20s team have been given a huge pre-finals boost ahead of their National Youth Competition showdown against the Manly Sea Eagles on Sunday with under-fire lock Corey Horsburgh free to play.

The 19-year-old Redcliffe junior was in danger of missing this weekend’s knockout finals encounter after being charged with a Grade 2 careless high tackle in last Thursday’s 26-24 Round 26 loss to the Brisbane Broncos in Townsville.

Horsburgh, a hard-running workhorse, was a possibility of missing Sunday’s do-or-die affair at Allianz Stadium, given an early guilty plea would have brought a one-match suspension.

So with nothing to lose given the young Cowboys are playing elimination footy, the club rolled the dice at the judiciary in a bid to get the charge downgraded and was successful.

“We’re thrilled to have Corey playing for us this weekend," coach Aaron Payne said. 

“He has been a constant and important part of our side all season long and to have him out there against the Sea Eagles on Sunday will be a great boost for us, especially those boys he plays alongside.”

PONGA WATCH

With that selection question mark now put to bed, the only other query for Payne ahead of the Team 5 versus Team 8 clash revolves around exciting fullback Kalyn Ponga.

The dynamic teenager has not played rugby league since hurting his shoulder playing for Paul Green’s NRL side in their Round 24 loss to the Cronulla Sharks.

Scans revealed that no surgery was needed and the 19-year-old was this week named in Payne’s 23-man team for this weekend.

Rated a reasonable chance of playing, Ponga could slot straight back into the fullback position, meaning that Nathan Traill would move to the centres, pushing Cody Maughan back infield into his usual edge back-rower position.

Payne may still tinker with his bench also, with Jack Glossop mounting a strong case for inclusion on Payne’s four-man interchange bench, piling the pressure on Jack Lote and Kaleb Fuimaono.

TRACK RECORD

The NYC Cowboys will go into the match as deserved favourites due to a superior final ladder position, but nothing should be made of the last clash between the sides – a 28-20 win to the Cowboys in Townsville – given that happened in Round 3.

Of more relevance would be the recent form of the teams – despite being beaten by a late penalty last start against the Broncos, the Cowboys had previously won five of their past six matches, and were just one win shy of a top-four finish.

The young Manly team have split their past six games and snuck into the top eight – and finals football – by virtue of a better points differential than ninth–placed South Sydney.  

COWBOYS' CHARGE

Ponga or not, the young Cowboys have a dangerous back five and have speed to burn or both edges.

The team’s leading try-scorer Michael Carroll has crossed 18 times this year – including four in his past five games – while fellow winger Murray Taulagi and boom centre Enari Tuala have 12 apiece.

Carroll was in a mood against the Sea Eagles in Round 3, crossing for a hat-trick, and Payne and his coaching staff will look for more of the same on Sunday.