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'Breath of fresh air': Hess rejuvenated by front-row switch

Having never started in the front row until three weeks ago, a move to prop has rejuvenated Cowboys big man Coen Hess and coincided with an uptick in the team's form.

After a horror 0-4 start to 2021, the Cowboys broke their duck in a high-scoring away win at Leichhardt Oval in round five with Hess starting at lock in what was a very rare sojourn in the middle for the 24-year-old edge forward.

Coach Todd Payten obviously liked what he saw because Hess has started in the No.8 jersey for three straight games since, with the Cowboys winning three straight from the Wests Tigers game before last weekend's narrow loss to the Warriors in Gosford.

Hess told NRL.com he was enjoying the switch, which allowed him to go harder on the field knowing he didn't have to stay out there for 80 minutes.

"I'm finding it really good, I think it complements areas of the game I'm trying to focus on," Hess said.

"I can sort of go out there and empty my tank as such and come off for a rest.

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"In years gone by out on the edge I think I found I was trying to preserve my energy and sort of wasn't injecting myself into the game as such because I was focusing on having to last 80 minutes whereas now I know I can go out there, execute my role as best I can with the luxury of knowing I can have a rest so that aspect I've really enjoyed."

Hess's first-ever start at prop, against Canterbury in round six, yielded season-high numbers in tackles (34) and run metres (94) with a season low in minutes (50), with similar numbers in the three games since.

The move in had simplified his role, he added.

"The way the game's going now back row's become a specialist-type position," Hess said.

"Moving into the middle is sort of a simplified role in the team, more just straight up and down. Just enjoying making less decisions on an edge there, you've always got blokes standing beside you so you can get a bit more confidence in defence and that type of thing.

"It's a breath of fresh air. Different type of role. I'm enjoying it and I think that's when you play your best footy, when you enjoy it for what it really is."

The only thing Hess wasn't pleases with was the actual number on his back.

"It's good but I'm not a huge fan of the number – I think back in the day No.8 was always the short fat kid but position-wise I'm really enjoying it!" he laughed.

The emergence of some young back-rowers in Shane Wright and Ben Condon – with Tom Gilbert still to return – has helped facilitate Hess's move into the engine room.

The man he now defends next to, hooker Reece Robson, praised the new-found depth in the club's pack.

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"Through injury and other things like Josh McGuire leaving, it's given the younger boys a bit of an opportunity there," Robson told NRL.com.

"Shane Wright coming back into the side, he works really hard and it really helps us. His defensive efforts off the ball people probably don't see but it really helps us as a team.

"Benny Condon coming into the side doing what he does best, a big body just running hard, he's been really good for us as well.

"Lachlan Burr coming in has been really good for us as well working hard through the middle and really good defensively."

 

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