Cowboys to take cautious approach at Auckland 9s

NORTH Queensland coach Paul Green will not gamble on the health of his star players when the Cowboys defend their Auckland Nines title at the end of the month.

NRL clubs will this week begin naming their 18-man squads for the $2.6 million abbreviated nine-a-side knockout competition, which the Cowboys won last year, Green's first with the club.

While he did not rule out naming champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston and new recruit Justin O'Neill in his squad, he made it clear his focus was on the club's opening match of the NRL season against heavyweights the Sydney Roosters in Townsville on March 7.

"JT is a possibility," Green told APN. "But I won't be risking him or anyone. That would be a last-minute decision."

Thurston will be keen to play after completing his first full pre-season in years after missing the Four Nations series because of a shoulder injury he carried through much of the 2014 season, and into the finals.

"Justin (O'Neill) is a chance. He is running this week, but, again, I won't be taking any risks."

Fullback Lachlan Coote, who broke his leg at last year's Auckland Nines in his first appearance for the club after switching from Penrith, and who is battling Michael Morgan for the No.1 jumper, is only an outside chance to make the trip across the Tasman.

The Cowboys beat Brisbane 16-7 in last year's inaugural Auckland Nines final with a squad primarily of young players Green was keen to have a look at ahead of the season proper.

"I'll probably adopt the same attitude, but I'll also give a lot of the players involved in last year's win a shot at defending the title," Green said.

One of the new faces in the squad could be Auckland-born Matthew Wright, who played 17 games last year after linking with the club from Cronulla.

Another is Matt Bowen's exciting nephew Javid Bowen.

He was outstanding as man-of-the-match, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the Northern Pride's 32-28 upset of NSW Cup premier Penrith in the final of the Intrust Super Cup at ANZ Stadium last October.

"Any time you go out to play you want to win," Green said.

"My focus is on our first NRL game, but we will give the Nines a good crack, for sure."