Tough 2021 lessons spurring young Cowboys

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North Queensland will chase their first four-match winning streak since 2017 when they face struggling Newcastle in Townsville on Saturday.

The in-form Cowboys are 13 places above the struggling visitors and given their home track record over the Knights - they have won five straight - the hosts will fancy their chances.

Spurred by the good form of his veterans and up-and-coming talent, coach Todd Payten attributes the rise of his younger players to the experience gained in 2021.

Forwards Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai and Griffin Neame , all 21 or younger, are now regulars in the Cowboys team having played 19, 12 and nine NRL games respectively.

"That was a decision based on what was going to happen in the future and we got some some minutes, some extra games into Heilum, Jeremiah, Griffin Neame when we left some experienced players out of our squad (last year), and they're better for it," Payten said.

"They understand and know how to get the job done now and a lot of that was based on what they experienced at different times last year."

Payten's side is unchanged from their 35-4 win over Parramatta, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow again named in the interchange.

The Cowboys speedster felt a "pinch" in his knee after his return from injury, but Payten said the 'Hammer' trained without strapping although still undecided how minutes he'd get in Saturday's clash.

Opposition coach Adam O'Brien has instituted a number of changes to his side that hasn't scored a try in two matches.

Tex Hoy and Phoenix Crossland will play in the halves, with Jake Clifford omitted and Adam Clune out with a knee injury.

Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Dominic Young return from injuries with Mat Croker and Pasami Saulo named on the bench.

The injury-ravaged Knights are under pressure as they've lost six straight games and conceded 89 points in their last two NRL outings.

Payten said he expects the opposition forwards to lay the platform for skipper and exciting fullback Kalyn Ponga.

"Put myself in Adam O'Brien's shoes and I'm looking at their squad and their forward pack is definitely their strengths," he said.

"So I'd be challenging those guys to lay the platform for the younger halves and Kalyn to build off the back of that.

"I spoke to our middle forwards around meeting that challenge head on and then we've got a plan about how we're going to handle Kalyn."

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