We’re not out of it yet: Coach
COWBOYS coach Paul Green is adamant his decimated side is still in the premiership race even if they finish outside the top four.
The NRL’s biggest injury toll became worse when Justin O’Neill suffered a suspected dislocated elbow in Saturday’s 24- 16 loss at Penrith, the Cowboys’ third straight loss.
The injury usually requires a four- to six- week recovery period, meaning the centre’s season could be over.
It is believed fullback Lachlan Coote sprained his ankle after he was twisted awkwardly in a tackle but it isn’t too serious.
Forward Shaun Fensom was also in the wars as he suffered a medial ligament injury in the hard- fought loss in Sydney.
The club is also confident Michael Morgan ( concussion) will be fine to play this week after he didn’t return to the field for the second half.
The Cowboys are now eighth with three rounds remaining, just two points ahead of the ninth- placed Dragons who have an easier run home on paper.
But North Queensland is also just two points outside the top four before this Saturday’s crucial home clash with Cronulla.
No team has won the premiership from outside the top four but Green warned not to put a red line through his team yet if they get some troops back.
“It ( top four) would be nice because of the travel involved, but if we finish outside the top four, it won’t worry us,” Green said.
“We knew we had four games to go ( before the Penrith match) and we had to win at least one, if not two, to make sure we’re playing finals.
“There’s three games to go. We’re still hanging in there, we’ll be all right.
“We’re not done yet. It just feels like a few things are going against us the last couple of weeks but we’ve got plenty of character. I’m proud of those blokes.”
The Cowboys played with 15 men for more than 40 minutes and the Panthers had to wait until the dying stages to put the spirited visitors away.
The result may have been different had it not been for a superb one- on- one tackle by teenage halfback Nathan Cleary on Cowboys man mountain Coen Hess.
North Queensland led 16- 12 with 27 minutes left and the Bunker ruled there was insufficient evidence to award a try after referee Matt Cecchin sent it upstairs as a no try.
Asked if he thought he scored, Hess said: “In the spur of the moment I didn’t think I did, but watching the replay I think it touched the ground. But it’s the ref’s call and you can’t change it now.
“I guess it comes down to a 50- 50 call and it didn’t go my way, so that’s fair enough.”
Green believed the Cowboys would have got the green light had it been ruled a try on the field.
“That’s one where if it had gone up as a try, we probably would have got the try,” Green said.
“There was not much in it because of the amount of times he ( video referee) went over it.”