NORTH QUEENSLAND remain hopeful hooker Aaron Payne will be fit for Friday's semi-final against Manly.
Payne, who will be retiring at the end of the season, suffered a knee injury in the Cowboys' 33-16 win over Brisbane on Saturday that threatened to end his season and career prematurely.
But Cowboys general manager Peter Parr said yesterday Payne's condition had improved significantly since then.
''We still have to assess the situation but he was better yesterday than he was on Saturday night,'' Parr said. ''It is a waiting game at the moment, we will await the results of scans today and know more tomorrow.''
North Queensland travel to Sydney to meet Manly at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, with the winner to play Melbourne the following week for a spot in the grand final. The Cowboys have a poor record in Sydney but Parr said the club would ignore any talk of hoodoos before the match.
''We always knew at this stage of the season we would have to play a big game in Sydney so we are ready for it,'' he said.
''We are expecting a hostile reception. But we will go into the game with some momentum and we aren't worried about what has happened before. We are not worried about anything like hoodoos.''