Question time for Green’s party
Coach Paul Green tackles the burning questions all Cowboys fans want answered
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.