North Queensland Cowboys under 20's v Penrith Panthers under 20's from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville. Cowboys Mitch Dunn. Picture: Zak Simmonds
North Queensland Cowboys under 20's v Penrith Panthers under 20's from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville. Cowboys Mitch Dunn. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Cowboys debut a Dunn deal for Mitch

THE Cowboys will be forced to blood one of their youngest and inexperienced packs in recent memory after Matt Scott's suspension was compounded by the loss of Scott Bolton through injury.

Bolton has succumbed to a rib cartilage injury suffered in last week's loss to Melbourne and was a no-show when the team travelled to Sydney yesterday for tonight's clash with Manly.

Back rower Mitchell Dunn is set to make his NRL debut after impressing with Mackay Cutters this season.

The 21-year-old captained North Queensland's under-20s team last year and played most of his football at five-eighth alongside highly-rated halfback Jake Clifford.

But at 190cm and 100kg, the Mackay junior had always been earmarked as a ball-playing forward and will get his chance to impress against the Sea Eagles.

Needing a win to keep their faint finals hopes alive, the Cowboys will enter the match without six first-choice forwards in Bolton, Scott, Jordan McLean (foot), John Asiata (pectoral), Coen Hess (Origin) and Gavin Cooper (Origin).

Three members of the prop rotation, Francis Molo, Corey Jensen and Sam Hoare, have played just 53 NRL games between them.

Bolton didn't train yesterday and could miss more games.

"He's got a pretty serious rib cartilage injury so given the nature of that, it's more than likely he won't play," Cowboys assistant coach David Fairleigh said.

"He did physio and rehab, it's all he can do at the moment.

"It's tough to lose guys with experience but it creates opportunities for young guys coming through and we have high hopes for 'Dunny'.

"We were very disappointed to lose Matt, the last three weeks his football's been outstanding.

"Knowing Matt, deep down he would have had a point to prove not getting picked for Origin."

Although Dunn's halves days are behind him, Fairleigh encouraged him not to be too afraid to showcase his creativity.

"I think we all knew he was never going to end up there (halves), he just kept growing and growing," Fairleigh said.

"He can pass the ball and there's no reason why he still can't do the things that a quality five-eighth can do.

"He's got very nice hands and skills, reads the game well and defends well.

Dunn's Cowboys under-20s coach last year, Aaron Payne, believes his time in the halves will only help him with the step up.

"He's always played in the halves as a younger guy because he was so skillful, but he was destined to play in the forwards because of his size," Payne said.

"Because we weren't travelling so well and he was doing such a good job in the halves, it's how it eventuated.

"I'd best describe him as a Wade Graham type where he's a big body that can play back row or even in the middle, but he's pretty skillful as well."