Ques­tion time for Green’s party

Coach Paul Green tack­les the burn­ing ques­tions all Cow­boys fans want an­swered

Rugby League Week - - News - BY JOEL GOULD

1. Will Ponga be on the outer? COW­BOYS COACH Paul Green is adamant su­per­star-in-the­mak­ing Ka­lyn Ponga won’t be vic­timised for sign­ing with New­cas­tle for 2018 and be­yond – but there’ll be no bou­quets thrown around, ei­ther. Green has made it clear that 18-year-old Ponga will be se­lected in the 17 if his form war­rants it, and if there’s a va­cancy in the club’s well-es­tab­lished back­line.

Pres­sure has come from those around Ponga for the Cow­boys to re­lease him in 2017, but that won’t be hap­pen­ing, and Green makes no apolo­gies for that.

“He’s at our club this year,” he states flatly. “I reckon the game has got it wrong and you should not be do­ing deals in the off-sea­son for the year af­ter. It’s just a bad look for ev­ery­one.”

But Green’s at pains to point out that Ponga’s at­ti­tude and com­mit­ment aren’t in ques­tion: “It’s been a tricky sit­u­a­tion for a young man to han­dle, and he has han­dled it pretty well.”

Lach­lan Coote, Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Lin­nett and An­to­nio Win­ter­stein won a pre­mier­ship in 2015 and, bar­ring in­juries, they’ll likely be the start­ing back five.

So while Ponga’s de­vel­op­ing nicely, Green says he has no mort­gage on a po­si­tion.

“He has to earn the right to be in the team and at the mo­ment he’s not in our best 17. If there are in­juries or form dic­tates it, he’ll cer­tainly be in the mix . . . I’m not go­ing to not pick him be­cause he signed for New­cas­tle, and I’m not go­ing to pick him be­cause he signed for New­cas­tle.

“I know there’ll come a time through the year where some peo­ple will jump up and down and say I’m not pick­ing him be­cause he’s go­ing to New­cas­tle, but that’s a com­plete load of crap.” 2. Has the pack lost its punch? VETERAN Scott Bolton is in pole po­si­tion to start in the front row with Matt Scott as the Cow­boys ad­just to life with­out James Tamou and Ben Han­nant. But as for who comes off the bench, that’s open to young for­wards such as Sam Hoare, John Asi­ata and Pa­trick Kau­fusi. There’s the op­tion of Coen Hess mov­ing to prop, but Green sees him as more of an edge back-rower. “I haven’t de­cided [on Tamou’s re­place­ment] at this stage but Bolts is def­i­nitely in the mix,” says Green. “He’s older and more ex­pe­ri­enced – the tried-and-true bloke I can rely on. “The only thing peo­ple get a bit ner­vous about is that a lot of the young guys are a bit un­tried. “Sam Hoare un­for­tu­nately did his knee last year and we didn’t see any of him, but the year be­fore he played some strong games for us and was ma­tur­ing into a good front-rower.

“Kau­fusi is a young guy who should have his sights set on be­ing in the pack some­where. John Asi­ata has been there the last cou­ple of years and Hessy got a taste of it last year and was re­ally good for us . . .

“They showed they’re up to play­ing NRL but some­times might have two or three good games and then an off game. But to be a reg­u­lar NRL player you’ve got to be con­sis­tent, and that’s the next step for those young guys.”

The Cow­boys didn’t go to the mar­ket to buy re­place­ments for Han­nant and Tamou

“If we were go­ing to buy any­one I wanted to make sure they would im­prove us. I didn’t just want to road-block some of those younger guys,” Green says. “There’s risk as­so­ci­ated with that, but we have to have faith in our sys­tem.”

“I still think there’s a fair bit of im­prove­ment in Morgs and if he can find that im­prove­ment I do think we’ll be well-placed the day JT re­tires”

3. Is there life af­ter JT? THE CLUB’S GREAT­EST chal­lenge is en­sur­ing life af­ter Thurston isn’t a liv­ing hell. Last year JT told RLW he be­lieves Michael Mor­gan is more than ca­pa­ble of lead­ing the Cow­boys once he hangs up the boots, likely at the end of 2018 – and the coach agrees.

“I still think there’s a fair bit of im­prove­ment in Morgs, and if he can find that im­prove­ment I do think we’ll be wellplaced the day JT re­tires,” Green says.

“Morgs loves the club and he’s also a lo­cal guy, so it’s a good po­si­tion to be in. The other thing is that when JT does even­tu­ally fin­ish, you have a bit of money to go to the mar­ket with, as long as we don’t use that on ev­ery­one else . . .

“At the mo­ment we have a cou­ple of op­tions. We’ll see how some young guys develop, and what is on the mar­ket as well. We have Kyle Lay­butt, who is a good young kid we’re bring­ing through who has played in our 20s. He still has a bit to learn . . .

“I coached Ben Hamp­ton as a young bloke when he was 14 or 15 at the QAS. His role here now is as more of a utility and he’s an­other guy who could develop long-term into that half­back po­si­tion.” 4. Can we keep our man Matt? OFF-CON­TRACT TEST PROP MATT SCOTT IS set to sign what could be his last NRL deal and the Cow­boys are de­ter­mined to re­tain him in the face of strong in­ter­est from the New­cas­tle Knights. “We don’t want to lose Matt and we will be do­ing our best to keep him,” Green says. “I think it would be a shame for him not to fin­ish his ca­reer at the Cow­boys. But it will come down to what’s most im­por­tant to him – whether it’s money or build­ing that brand where he’s a oneclub player who fin­ishes his ca­reer as one of our cap­tains. “In terms of where we are with the salary cap, we’re try­ing to keep the young guys com­ing through like Tau­malolo, Lowe and Hess. To keep those guys to­gether we’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to be able to pay as much [for Scott] as some other clubs.” Green says dis­cus­sions with 31-year-old Scott’s man­age­ment are on­go­ing, but there’s no dead­line. “With a guy like Matt you don’t want to be putting time frames on it, but the sooner we get it sorted the bet­ter for ev­ery­one go­ing for­ward,” he says.

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