O Neill doesn t need Test talk: Cowboys
O'Neill doesn't need Test talk: Cowboys

A Test jersey might be on the line but North Queensland coach Paul Green hopes the trans-Tasman clash is the last thing on centre Justin O'Neill's mind in Saturday's NRL clash with Newcastle.

Four Nations call-up O'Neill will line up for what has been billed as a Test centre playoff with Knights strike weapon Dane Gagai, ahead of Australia's May 5 clash with New Zealand in Canberra.

However, Green says Test speculation is the last thing O'Neill needs after a horror return last round from a hamstring injury.

Asked if O'Neill had Test selection in the back of his mind, Green said: "Hopefully not. Hopefully, all that is in their mind is doing a good job for our team."

O'Neill does not need to think about Kangaroos selection just yet. Pic: Getty

Green admitted even he was surprised by how rusty O'Neill was in his nightmare comeback match.

O'Neill was caught out in defence against St George Illawarra, costing two first-half tries as opposite number Tim Lafai ran amok in the Dragons' 28-22 win.

His second half was marred by uncharacteristic handling errors.

It was not a good look as Test selectors mulled over a reshuffled Kangaroos backline after Greg Inglis's knee injury.

The Cowboys' coach backed O'Neill to bounce back against the Knights.

"Absolutely - last week was his first game back after being out for a fair while so you would expect him to be a little bit rusty," Green said.

"Probably not as rusty as he was, but he's fine.

"I have no doubt he will bounce back."

It won't be just O'Neill out for redemption on Saturday.

Green said the whole team would be out to make amends for their disappointing last-round defensive effort against the Dragons.

North Queensland have conceded five tries in three of their past four matches.

Last year, the Cowboys conceded five tries in a game just twice for the season.

"You never like losing but we took some good lessons out of that and I think we will be better for it," Green said.

He claimed Newcastle's shock decision to drop Knights captain and ex-NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson for their clash did not change their plans.

"He (Hodkinson) has won State of Origins - I am sure he will be working hard to get back into the team," Green said.

The Cowboys coach said Hodkinson's replacement - five-game rookie Jaelen Feeney - would be tested.

"Our back-rowers will test any halves that we play against," he said.

"But we would like to be testing them right across the park."

Newcastle have lost 24 of their past 25 games, including their past five.

COWBOYS V KNIGHTS:

* North Queensland have won seven of their past 10 matches against Newcastle

* The Cowboys have lost 11 of their past 13 games without Johnathan Thurston, including the past four

* The Knights have lost 16 straight away games since round 26 in 2015, the equal second-longest streak in the NRL era

AAP

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