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Cowboys show off Qld Origin next gen

They have six in the State of Origin mix already but all their absences provided was a chance for North Queensland to show who could join them soon.

The Cowboys didn’t miss a beat in a 32-6 defeat of Gold Coast on Thursday, the top-four side defending resiliently for a ninth NRL win this season as the Titans (3-10) disintegrated.

They were without Valentine Holmes, Reuben Cotter, Jeremiah Nanai and the Maroons’ 18th man Tom Dearden, while wingers Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Taulagi score three tries between them after being released from the Maroons’ extended squad.

But with Jason Taumalolo back from injury to lead the charge, it was the performances of a pair of 21-year-olds that would have had Queenslanders salivating.

Prop Tom Gilbert, who will head to the Dolphins next year, and backrower Heilum Luki drew praise from coach Todd Payten for efforts that proved the state was in good hands.

“I thought Tommy Gilbert was awesome … Heilim, I think only his second or third start in his career, played really strong, scored a try, really threatening, defended well,” he said.

“Those guys are surely going to be included in the conversation around Origin, whether it’s this series or the future.

“Everyone was really excited about those guys getting selected and the guys coming in were excited about their opportunity.”

Nanai himself is only 19, while Cotter (23) is primed to debut at lock for Queensland on Wednesday after a standout season in the Cowboys’ engine room.

Pulling the strings in the halves with Dearden is Chad Townsend, who can see comparisons with his Cronulla premiership team of 2016.

“Defence was a huge focus for us in the off-season; we did a lot of tackling and it wasn’t my favourite thing to do but we’re reaping the rewards now,” he said.

“See how many tries we’ve saved this year .. it’s things like that we’ve been priding ourselves on.

“It’s a long season, we’re happy with where we’re sitting, but we’ve got improvement in us.

“Do we believe we can beat the best? We do, but I don’t think we’re at our best yet.”

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