The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

McGuire only one part of NQ clean-out

- PETER BADEL

THE Cowboys are facing a contract clean-out, with Josh McGuire on the verge of being released and big-name trio Jordan McLean, Coen Hess and Justin O’Neill under pressure to perform or perish.

The Sunday Mail understand­s McGuire (pictured) could be at the Dragons within a fortnight as part of a straight-swap deal that could see Adam Clune depart the Red V to bolster North Queensland‘s scrumbase.

This comes as the Cowboys suffered a massive blow ahead of their clash with the Tigers, with captain Jason Taumalolo (hand) and McGuire ruled out.

McGuire’s absence - with an infected elbow - continues the intrigue around his future.

McGuire is not alone in the firing line, with coach Todd Payten and football-operations boss Micheal Luck undertakin­g succession planning as the Cowboys prepare for 22 players to become free agents over the next 18 months.

Former Queensl land Origin duo Hess and O‘Neill are off-contract at the end of 2022, as is exT Test prop McLean, w who is one of the Cowboys’ highestpai­d players on a about $750,000 a season.

Others playing for their futures this season include utility back Scott Drinkwater, Ben Hampton, Corey Jensen and Jake Granville, who turns 33 next February.

North Queensland are under pressure to rejuvenate their roster after three consecutiv­e bottom-four finishes and recruitmen­t chief Dane Campbell flew to Sydney last week to meet with a host of player managers.

The Cowboys have cash to spend following the medical retirement of $1 million playmaker Michael Morgan on Friday and Luck said the club is putting their roster under the microscope.

“I won‘t go into names but we have a responsibi­lity to put together a good squad,” he said.

“We have some good young guys coming through and a few rookies coming through are potentiall­y developmen­t-list players.

“Our job on top of that is to put an NRL roster together that can help our talented young guys.

“We need to do what this club is built for and that‘s to give young players from north Queensland a chance to play NRL, but we also need to be ultra competitiv­e until those guys come though. We’re looking at our options at the moment.”

The Cowboys have made inquiries regarding off-contract Souths halfback Adam Reynolds and Queensland Origin forward Kurt Capewell, while fellow Maroons gun Dane Gagai is on the open market.

In February, Payten and Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston met with boom Brisbane halfback Tom Dearden, who is off-contract at season’s end and has yet to field a new deal from the Broncos.

Payten admits the Cowboys need to get better at selling the club to prospectiv­e recruits given the tyranny of distance in Townsville.

“I don‘t necessaril­y agree we have to pay more, but we are at some sort of disadvanta­ge geographic­ally,” he said.

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