North Queensland face the hooker that got away on Monday night when they front up against Penrith dynamo James Segeyaro.
Stalwart back-rower Gavin Cooper believes the Cowboys have finally solved their hooking problem as they face a huge task to contain the No.9 that got away – James Segeyaro.
North Queensland have struggled to settle on a No.9 since Segeyaro defected to Penrith two seasons ago and veteran rake Aaron Payne retired.
But with versatile Rory Kostjasyn given the starting role, and Ray Thompson pinch-hitting from the bench, the Cowboys have gone on a four-match roll to jump to fifth on the NRL ladder.
Cooper, himself providing a key boost in his return from a hip injury, said former Melbourne Storm forward Kostjasyn had been a significant factor in improving their once-brittle defence.
“He’s made that No.9 his own and then we have Ray to come on to add a little bit of spark,” he told AAP.
“Rory is very solid with what he does, he gets us around the park and he gets the big boys where they have to get to and he’s a really sound defender.
“It’s something the big boys really appreciate there because when the other teams look up we don’t have a weak defender in the middle.”
It has taken the Cowboys far longer than expected to recover from the dual losses of Payne and Segeyaro in 2012, with Thompson, Robert Lui, Anthony Mitchell and Cameron King unable to grab hold of the No.9 jersey.
Cooper, a former Penrith player himself, attributed a large part of the third-placed Panthers’ rise to Segeyaro’s explosive influence.
Since the Papua New Guinea-born dynamo replaced club captain Kevin Kingston in round nine, the Mountain Men have won nine of 12 games.
“He is a very exciting player,” Cooper said. “He’s very quick and powerful, so given the chance now to play 80 minutes it doesn’t take rocket science to work out he’s a big part of what they do.
“The crowd are behind him and he’s some sort of cult hero at the foot of the mountain so it will be good to come up against him.”
The Cowboys’ premiership credentials will be put to the test in Penrith on Monday night, starting a run home that features three games against top-three sides including South Sydney and Manly.
“I don’t see it as a bad thing at all,” said Cooper.