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by Scott Dickson, Tuesday July 18, 2006

ERGON Energy Broncos’ coach Wayne Bennett today made only part of one of his toughest selection calls of the season when he named a 19-man squad for Saturday night’s match against North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.

Fortunate to have only Karmichael Hunt (foot), Michael Ennis (knee) and Shane Perry (knee) unavailable, Bennett today faced the difficult task of sending quality first-graders back to the Queensland Cup.   

2006 Maroons preliminary squad member Neville Costigan was the first casualty, leaving Bennett to omit two more NRL regulars for round 20. Rookie fill-in hooker Ian Lacey also missed the cut.

Talented youngster Greg Eastwood and other back-up rake Casey McGuire are 18th and 19th men on an extended bench full of quality forwards - Corey Parker, Ben Hannant, Dane Carlaw and Sam Thaiday.

2006 Representative stars Justin Hodges, Tame Tupou and David Stagg have all been named to return from injury in the run-on side.

Maroons 2006 no.4 Brent Tate is the other centre, meaning Shaun Berrigan shifts back to hooker after playing centre last start against Melbourne.

Utility forward Costigan and pint-sized Lacey shared hooking duties against the Storm but will now play for feeder team Toowoomba against Redcliffe at Clive Berghofer Stadium on Saturday.

Costigan and Lacey’s omissions were on the cards. Costigan has only played a handful of matches since returning in round 14 against Souths from a serious round two knee injury.

While Lacey, 21, who has played only 10 career NRL games after debuting in round six, was not going to be needed as one of the two fill-in hookers the Broncos generally use considering the dummy-half presence of the more experienced Berrigan and McGuire.

With no replacement hookers or playmakers on a bench of four forwards, McGuire or fellow utility/playmaker Eastwood could be called up for balance purposes. Hannant is the only non-Origin player on the interchange.

Eastwood played on the wing outside Berrigan against the Storm, a match McGuire missed due to a one-match suspension obtained against Cronulla.

Bennett is likely to finalise his 17 following the Broncos pre-match field training session on Friday morning.

The Broncos have a field session tomorrow at Red Hill from 9am.

NRL Round 20
North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos
Saturday, July 22, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville
Kick-off: 7.30pm

1. Darius Boyd
2. Tame Tupou
3. Justin Hodges
4. Brent Tate
5. Scott Minto
6. Darren Lockyer (c)
7. Brett Seymour
8. Shane Webcke
9. Shaun Berrigan
10. Petero Civoniceva
11. David Stagg
12. Brad Thorn
13. Tonie Carroll

14. Corey Parker
15. Ben Hannant
16. Dane Carlaw
17. Sam Thaiday
18. Greg Eastwood
19. Casey McGuire (two to be omitted)
Coach: Wayne Bennett

North Queensland:
1. Matt Bowen
2. Ashley Graham
3. Mark Henry
4. Josh Hannay
5. Matt Sing
6. Travis Norton (c)
7. Johnathan Thurston
8. Matt Scott
9. Aaron Payne
10. Carl Webb
11. Steve Southern
12. Luke O’Donnell
13. Paul Bowman
14. David Faiumu
15. Jacob Lillyman
16. Gavin Cooper
17. Robert Tanielu
18. Justin Smith (one to be omitted)
Coach: Graham Murray