Justin O'Neill is feeling the pressure at the Cowboys.
Justin O'Neill is feeling the pressure at the Cowboys.

Young guns take aim at Cowboys centre

NO one was more disappointed at his Leichhardt Oval horror show than Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill.

And the former Queensland State of Origin centre concedes the club's young guns are putting pressure on senior players to perform after mainstays Lachlan Coote and Ethan Lowe were dropped from the team that lost to Souths last week.

O'Neill made five errors in the loss to the Tigers a fortnight ago, but after avoiding the axe produced a solid performance against the Rabbitohs on Saturday.

Teenage centre Enari Tuala however did little wrong when he came off the bench in his second NRL game and is pressing for a starting spot.

Asked if he felt the need to repay the club's faith, O'Neill said: "I knew myself that I was disappointed in my own performance and whether I was in the team or Queensland Cup (last week), I needed to put in a better performance that I could be happy with.

"The Leichhardt game was definitely an off one for me. It was a lack of focus and not staying in the moment.

"It (pressure from young players) has always been there. The younger players going back to Queensland Cup are playing some good footy and definitely putting some pressure on.

"A lot of those players have been in the squad for a while now and because we haven't been doing so well, it definitely puts a lot of pressure on."

Cowboys coach Paul Green urged O'Neill to lift as a senior player before Friday night's must-win grand final rematch  against Melbourne at 1300SMILES Stadium.

"I think he's still capable of a lot more and it's important guys like 'Juzee' find that for us," Green said.

"He's done it before. You don't forget how to play. He's still just as quick and knows how to play the game, it's about finding that confidence."

Cowboys players at training. Picture: Evan Morgan
Cowboys players at training. Picture: Evan Morgan

The Cowboys looked set to beat the in-form Rabbitohs to get their season back on track but a Souths penalty goal after the siren consigned them to a 3-8 record, and O'Neill said they need to recover mentally from the setback.

"The boys really played their guts out and in the end we lost, it's about trying to bounce back from games like that," O'Neill said.

"It can take its toll on players and it's hard sometimes, but you've got to focus on the positives.

"As much as a loss hurts us every time, definitely those close ones hurt a lot more. You come so close and try so hard, and to come away with a loss right on full time really stings."

O'Neill and fellow Cowboys centres Kane Linnett and Javid Bowen are all off contract at the end of the year.

Lachlan Coote has been left out of the Cowboys this week.
Lachlan Coote has been left out of the Cowboys this week.

However O'Neill confirmed he has an option in his favour to stay at the Cowboys next season.

"I've got the option in my contract for next year. That's there and I'm thinking about my options and what to do next," he said.

O'Neill felt for Coote after his omission, but there is little doubt the Cowboys' attack looked more potent with Michael Morgan at fullback.

"It was definitely a step in the right direction and looked like we had more of an attacking spark," O'Neill said.

"It looked good and some of the boys have said we felt comfortable knowing we could find the points we needed."