Leilua to make Cowboys debut in Qld derby

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North Queensland mid-season recruit Luciano Leilua is expected to debut for his new club in round 16 against derby rivals Brisbane.

Leilua, who was granted a release from Wests Tigers on Tuesday, still needs to pass a medical examination, sign his termination clause and await his contract with the Cowboys.

But his new coach has already earmarked his debut.

"We're playing him against the Broncos," Todd Payten said on Thursday.

"He'll get up and we just got to make him feel comfortable and welcome as possible.

"When I told the captains on Tuesday they were pretty excited. Jase (Jason Taumalolo) had a grin from ear to ear and Chad (Townsend) gave me a pot shot to the guts. So yeah, we're all excited to have him."

Payten has made some forced changes for Friday's clash with Manly in Sydney with Tom Gilbert out due to an eye injury and Heilum Luki sidelined for the season following an ACL tear.

Origin representative Jeremiah Nanai slots back into the second row for Gilbert after overcoming an ankle sprain while fellow Maroon Reuben Cotter returns at prop.

Connelly Lemuelu, who scored off the bench in their round-14 win, starts in the back row with Coen Hess shifting to the interchange.

The Cowboys have won five from seven away games in 2022 and cemented themselves as a genuine top-four contender this season.

That being said, Payten admitted their clash with Manly is one that's been back of their minds after two drubbings in 2021.

"I mentioned that post game against the Dragons, spoke about our two games last year. Tough loss down there and they embarrassed us at home," he said.

"We're playing a team that has a big, powerful forward pack and I think they're a well-balanced team very similar to us.

"But the difference for us I see is that we've probably got a bit more endurance in the middle rather than power like them."

Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans returns for Friday's clash after overcoming a quad niggle, shifting Kieran Foran to five-eighth and Josh Schuster to the bench.

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