The North Queensland Cowboys have lost Test prop Jordan McLean for three months with a foot injury but rising star Corey Jensen is waiting in the wings for a recall.
The Cowboys are also waiting on scans from hooker Josh Chudleigh’s knee after he was injured playing for Mackay Cutters in the Intrust Super Cup.
Chudleigh was three weeks into his return from a knee reconstruction which led to him missing the 2017 season. The injury he suffered on Saturday against the Northern Pride in Cairns was to the same knee.
The Cowboys had a shocking run with injury last year when co-captains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston missed the majority of the Telstra Premiership so are no strangers to adversity.
In better news for the Cowboys, fullback Lachlan Coote got through 80 minutes in the No.1 jersey for the Cutters and is a step closer to his NRL recall after injuring his calf in the pre-season clash with the Melbourne Storm.
McLean, who starred for Australia in last year’s World Cup win, was recruited to give the front-row rotation extra punch. He was on track to make his NSW debut in the Holden State of Origin arena before suffering a foot injury in the 33-14 loss to the Penrith Panthers on Thursday night.
McLean is booked in for surgery on Monday morning and is set to miss the entire Origin series.
Cowboys general manager of football Peter Parr said the situation was "sad for Jordan and disappointing for the club".
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"We were so excited for him to come and play football for the club so to lose him for an extended period of time is disappointing for everyone," he said.
"Our first priority is to look after him, and the second priority is to ensure that the team gets on and plays as good as we can without him."
Scott and John Asiata are still on deck and Scott Bolton had a stellar season last year when asked to step up in his co-captain’s absence.
Parr said Shaun Fensom, who broke his leg in last year’s grand final, was "a couple of weeks away" and Jensen, who played prop for Townsville in the Intrust Super Cup on the weekend, was in the wings.
"Corey did a really good job for us last year and came into his own in the finals series so we are not without options, but clearly when you lose an Australian front rower it does hurt," Parr said.
"This is not a situation that is foreign to us."
Jensen, who played 17 NRL games last year, was in the top squad for the opening two rounds.
The Cowboys are expected to move Bolton back to the starting line-up with Jensen to come onto the bench for the away clash with the Warriors in round five.
Cutters coach Steve Sheppard said Coote impressed in his outing against the Northern Pride.
"We knew he was going to be underdone after playing just 10 minutes of footy this year but he got through 80 minutes and had some nice touches," Sheppard told NRL.com.
"I thought Lachlan did some really good things, scored a try and chimed in well. He was busy."
Cowboys coach Paul Green has been impressed with Ben Hampton’s form at fullback despite the Cowboys losing three of their opening four games. But having Coote back on the park and firing will give him a welcome selection headache.