Enari Tuala at Cowboys training.
Enari Tuala at Cowboys training. Alix Sweeney

Hodges wants Cowboys to focus on next generation

MAROONS legend Justin Hodges believes now is the time for the Cowboys to look to the future while their young players can still draw on the experience of veterans like Johnathan Thurston.

The Cowboys (3-8) are in the midst of their worst season since 2010 and they face an almighty task to turn things around against reigning premiers Melbourne in Townsville tomorrow night.

Coach Paul Green finally reacted to that horror start with an injection of youth against Souths last weekend as centre Enari Tuala and prop Francis Molo came off the bench.

Tuala, 19, and Molo, 23, have been standouts at Queensland Cup level this season and Hodges believed the Cowboys would only benefit by giving them more time in the NRL.

"While you've got the likes of 'JT' (Thurston) still up there running around, I think the more those guys can play with him the more they can learn and better understand the game," he said.

"At the moment, the Cowboys are in a position where they've got to win a lot of games so I think it's time that they look to freshen up and give those young guys an opportunity to play more first grade."

Hodges was effusive in his praise of Tuala after working together through the Queensland under-20s and he said the Cairns junior's best asset was his willingness to learn.

Justin Hodges is the new under-20s Queensland coach. Pic Darren England.
Justin Hodges is the new under-20s Queensland coach. Pic Darren England.

"He's always open and quite willing to learn new things and I think he's going to be a fantastic player to watch for a very long time," Hodges said

"He's a great defender and his attacking ability is very good. He's strong, he's fast, he can step off both feet, and I just think he's a true centre."

Hodges said Tuala was typical of the new breed of rugby league talents who even as teenagers already have the belief that they're good enough to play in the NRL.

"They're not like us when we were just coming into grade. We were nervous and didn't know what to do, but these young guys are coming through with so much confidence now," Hodges said.

"You've just got to put them in there and let them have a go. We saw the likes of AJ Brimson, another under-20s player, he's played two games (for the Titans) and he's been fantastic

"Harry Grant had his chance for Melbourne and young Kotoni Staggs at the Broncos. I know he's a New South Welshman, but you see a lot of those young kids starting to get their opportunities now.

"When he (Tuala) starts bringing all those attributes that everyone knows he can bring to first-grade football, I think he's going to be a wonderful player to watch."

North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm Friday night at 7.55pm LIVE and ad-break free during play on FOX LEAGUE.