Cowboys middle forward John Asiata says he'd be more than comfortable to continue playing in the halves as cover for the injured Johnathan Thurston after the star playmaker hurt his shoulder in the Kangaroos' win over New Zealand on Friday.
North Queensland released a statement on Monday afternoon confirming the injury wasn't season-ending and would not require surgery, but it remains unclear when the champion halfback is due back.
THE Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be out to forge an important victory when the North Queensland Cowboys visit ANZ Stadium on Thursday 11 May.
Thurston had missed three club games with a calf complaint but returned to lead Australia to a comprehensive win in the mid-season Test.
His latest setback could end his remarkable 36-game State of Origin streak and heaps more pressure on a Cowboys side that sits just outside the top eight after nine rounds.
"It's going to be a big loss for us as everyone knows," Asiata said following Samoa's 30-10 loss to England on Saturday night.
"He's one of the best halfbacks in the game and it's been pretty tough without him there, but I think us boys should be alright.
"I think us boys have to take our game to a new level which we haven't done yet this year. It's going to take the whole 17 to fill his shoes so everyone has to do their job.
"I think [we've missed] his direction and his awareness of the game. Two big things that you need in a halfback is to be able to direct your players around the field and then lift your team at certain points, and also awareness of if you're on top or on the back foot in the game and what to do and where to place kicks [as a result].
"That's one place that we lack at the moment without him, but I'm sure the boys are training hard back there and getting ready for next week."
All eyes will be on North Queensland's team list when it's announced on Tuesday afternoon, with Asiata willing to fill the void if called upon.
Prior to Thurston's calf injury Asiata had only started three times in his NRL career, but that tally has doubled in recent weeks with Cowboys coach Paul Green thrusting the Samoan representative into the halves.
The 24-year-old revealed he had played in the halves as a teenager before making the move to the pack after bulking up, but his recent form – four try assists in three matches – suggests he can handle the playmaking duties if called upon once more.
While Asiata said that he had loved every bit of his time in the halves, he admitted he felt that he'd let his team down in their last-start loss to the Eels.
"I said in my third game in the halves with the shock news of 'Johnno' not ending up playing that game, I wasn't really prepared to play in the halves because [I thought] that I'd be back in the middle," he confessed.
"As a player you've got to be aware of those things that anything can happen in a game and you can be chucked into the deep end. It wasn’t my best performance in that third game, but I'm sure I won't let the boys down next time if I get another crack at it."
Asiata's role against the Bulldogs on Thursday will come down to whether regular starters Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville are cleared to make their returns from lengthy stints on the sidelines.
"I think they should be good. I'm not too sure how they went this week – I don't know if they actually trained with the team," Asiata said of Coote and Granville.
"If I have to do another job there, I'm always happy to do that. I know with three games under my belt in the halves, I'll have more of an awareness of what to do and I'll be more prepared.
"If we have 'Cootey' and 'Jakey' back then it'll be a bonus because we'll have another player who is very experienced in directing the team around."