By Dylan Morris, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys coach Paul Green has named injured centre Justin O'Neill on an extended bench for his side's knockout final against the Parramatta Eels this weekend.
O'Neill dislocated his elbow in Round 23 and was expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks, with Week 2 of the finals marking the five-week mark.
He's yet to train with the squad, and his participation this weekend is contingent on doing that successfully.
"He's been improving, it was originally sort of a four-to-six-week injury so this is week five so we'll see how it goes," Green said.
"Any of those experienced guys that have played in big games, having them back into the team would give everyone a boost I think."
It would be a massive inclusion for the Cowboys, particularly defensively, with O'Neill's experience at centre impossible to replicate although Javid Bowen has given it an admirable attempt in recent weeks.
With Green already playing several players under an injury cloud, particularly Te Maire Martin and John Asiata, O'Neill's inclusion is more likely than if it was a regular season game.
The premiership-winning coach's selection headache is amplified by the grit displayed by his side's 15-14 win over the Cronulla Sharks in the opening week of the finals, and the risks of bringing in a player who isn't match-fit.
"[O'Neill] is experienced enough, played in big games, he's played in finals and rep games as well, he knows his body pretty well so if he gets through alright I'm sure he'll be able to manage that," Green said.
"I think everyone wants to be playing footy at this time of year, so being out injured for a while, to get back on the paddock is always your goal so we'll see how he goes."
Forward John Asiata is also awaiting scans on a sore hand, which didn't prevent him from finishing the game on the weekend, but could sideline him in the Eels game if it is injured.
Green is hopeful that Asiata will be able to play and the forward himself is eager to take the field, even if he needs numbing injections in order to take the field.
"He just had a bit of a hand issue after the game, having not trained yet we don't exactly know how well he can handle that so we'll train tomorrow and see how he goes… we're getting scans, like usual," Green said.
First published on NRL.com.