Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin.

Te Maire Martin insists he cannot afford to think the No.6 jersey is his as the off-contract North Queensland Cowboys utility prepares for a defining season in his NRL career.

In the wake of Johnathan Thurston's retirement, Cowboys coach Paul Green recently said the 23-year-old had his "nose in front" of Jake Clifford in the race to partner Michael Morgan in the halves.

It is a role Martin handled with distinction in 12 games in 2017 as he played a major role in steering the Cowboys to the grand final.

Last year Martin played 23 NRL matches, moving between fullback, the bench and five-eighth.

Martin played in Thurston's final game last year after picking up a minor ankle injury a fortnight earlier. That prevented him from joining New Zealand on their end of season tour of England.

It was a blessing in disguise in one sense, allowing him to prepare for a Telstra Premiership season in which he hopes to win a contract extension at the Cowboys.

"I got injured and missed out on the Kiwis [tour] and got to do the whole pre-season which really helped me out, especially the bit before Christmas where I did a lot of running and got the k’s in the legs," Martin said.

"I feel pretty good to go now. It is a really important year for me, coming off contract at the end of the year. I'm looking to really work hard on my positional stuff.

It makes it a lot easier when you have a dominant partner like that

Te Maire Martin on partnering Michael Morgan

"The Cowboys gave me a big opportunity when I left the Panthers and ever since I've really enjoyed my time here. I would like to stay."

Martin said Green's main assignment for him so far this pre-season was to bulk up as he spoke of his determination to win the five-eighth jersey.

"To start off with, just keeping my weight up and putting a few kilos on with a bit of muscle and not fat," Martin said when asked about Green's instructions.

"We'll get into more detail in the next couple of weeks about what he wants me to do.

"I'm not too sure if [Green] has got the team booked in yet. I don't think the jersey is going to be given to me, so I've still got to work hard. There are a lot of players pushing for it as well ... so I can't look too far ahead."

Martin's biggest threat will come from Queensland under 20s half Clifford, who impressed at the back end of last season when given an opportunity in the halves alongside Thurston.

Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin.
Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin. ©David Acree/NRL Photos

Ben Barba is set to have first crack at the fullback position and he will also be keen for a big year to earn himself a contract extension, so the custodian's role may not be a fallback position for Martin if he does not make a go of five-eighth.

Martin is drawing confidence from the fact that his partnership with Morgan has worked a treat in the past.

"We had a little burst in 2017 when I came up and Johnno got injured. We went pretty far that year," he said.

"He's easy to get along with and a really good talker. It makes it a lot easier when you have a dominant partner like that. It is not perfect but we are working on the combinations."