Cowboys' pre-season NRL advantage

North Queensland will be given a valuable head start on their NRL rivals next season as they attempt to avenge their grand final loss to Melbourne.

Kangaroos half Michael Morgan is one of just four Cowboys playing in rugby league's World Cup.

Kangaroos half Michael Morgan is one of just four Cowboys playing in rugby league's World Cup.

Of 115 NRL players selected to feature in the World Cup, only Michael Morgan, Te Maire Martin, Jason Taumalolo and new recruit Jordan McLean are from the Cowboys' 2018 top squad.

With representative players only due to return to training in January, it means North Queensland will have more of their main squad available than any of their top-eight rivals from 2017.

Matt Scott is also expected to train with the Cowboys when they commence pre-season having recovered from a knee injury, while Thurston claimed this week his comeback from a shoulder injury was ahead of schedule.

Despite their mounting injury toll at the end of the NRL season, only forwards Shaun Fensom (leg), John Asiata (hand) and centre Kane Linnett (elbow) have required post-season surgery.

The boost is a much-needed slice of good luck for the Cowboys, who fought their way to this year's decider despite having the most expensive casualty ward in the NRL.

Only the struggling Gold Coast will have less players unavailable for pre-season training due to the World Cup, with only three players from their coach-less squad named in teams.

New Canterbury coach Dean Pay and his incoming Rabbitohs counterpart Anthony Seibold will both be without five of their contracted players, however the latter's tally is compounded by the fact Greg Inglis won't make a full return from a knee injury until January.

Pay's representatives will also likely climb to six once the club re-signs hooker Michael Lichaa.

Meanwhile the Warriors are the worst hit, with 13 players unavailable for pre-season training until January due to the tournament.

Among them are fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, halfback Shaun Johnson and new recruits Adam Blair, Gerard Beale and Peta Hiku.

It could also harm their search for a replacement five-eighth for Kieran Foran if they are unable to lure Blake Green from Manly, with the bulk of their spine missing and potential new No.6 Ata Hingano selected for Tonga.

Parramatta, Canberra, St George Illawarra and Melbourne are the next most represented with nine players, while Manly and Cronulla each account for eight of the NRL players named for the five-week competition.

The Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters each have seven, Brisbane six, Penrith five and Newcastle four.

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