Gavin Cooper, Lachlan Coote, Antonio Winterstein could all return as Cowboys prepare for final stand
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THE Cowboys are preparing to welcome back a number of key troops for Friday’s must-win clash against the Tigers.

Gavin Cooper (calf), Lachlan Coote (ankle) and Antonio Winterstein (hamstring) are all racing the clock to return this weekend as North Queensland fight to keep their finals hopes alive.

Coach Paul Green confirmed the experienced trio were looking promising for the trip to Campbelltown, which the Cowboys now have to win after losing their fourth consecutive match to the Sharks on Saturday.

“They’re all a good chance of playing next week so hopefully we have a good week’s prep and we’ll see what happens,” Green said.

With Kalyn Ponga (shoulder) and John Asiata (elbow) expected to go for scans on Monday for injuries suffered against Cronulla, the timing of Cooper and Winterstein’s returns in particular will be welcome.

The loss to the Sharks on home turf was the third consecutive match in which the luckless Cowboys have finished a game with just 15 players.

Injuries have ravaged the side this year and in the space of two weeks, the club have gone from top-four contenders to the possibility they may miss the finals altogether.

While they will finish the round in eighth place, stand-in skipper Michael Morgan said the Cowboys had some big challenges ahead as they end the regular season with clashes against the Tigers and Broncos.

“Two weeks make a big difference in footy,” Morgan said.

“A couple of weeks ago we were looking to get a spot in the top four and now we need to win to stay in the eight.

“It’s a challenge each week … but we want to embrace the challenge. We don’t want to be a team that just gives up and rolls over and says ‘we tried hard so it’s okay’.

“We want to be in the contest and in the game and doing our best to not let each other or our supporters down.”

The depleted Cowboys have been applauded for the fight they have shown in recent weeks despite their growing casualty ward.

Green has been very vocal about his side’s character.

“I am really proud of the way they’re playing and they should be proud of themselves,” he said.

“It shows a tremendous character to keep turning up and fronting up.

“We’re still in the hunt. We’ll get a few troops back next week and fight for a win.”

But Morgan said unless that effort gets them a place in the top eight, the Cowboys would view this season as a failure.

“We want to be in the finals,” he said.

“Everyone else can talk about how we’re trying hard and it’s okay if we don’t (make it).

“We see this season as a fail if we don’t get there. That’s how we felt at the start of the year and it hasn’t changed now.”

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