The Canberra Raiders hopes of snapping a two-week losing run is set to be bolstered by the return of Joe Tapine after the New Zealand international was named to make an early comeback from injury.
Tapine was the only change to the Raiders for their clash against the North Queensland Cowboys at Canberra Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
He was expected to miss up to three months after damaging ligaments in his ankle against Parramatta. But the 24-year-old is set for a return just five weeks after the injury as the Raiders look to resurrect their winning ways.
Tapine's presence will give the Raiders' forward pack extra punch after a taxing game against the ladder-leading South Sydney Rabbitohs last weekend.
Hudson Young and Corey Horsburgh have stood up in Tapine's and as the Raiders found ways to cope without four of their international stars.
Joey Leilua's season is over after having neck surgery two weeks ago and it's not yet known if the livewire centre will be able to make a comeback at all after scans found a bulging disc putting pressure on his spinal cord.
Jordan Rapana damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee and will miss another few weeks, while England star John Bateman fractured his eye socket and won't be back for another month.
But injuries aside, one of the biggest challenges for the Raiders this week will be managing ways to come down from two massive weeks to ensure they don't slip against the Cowboys.
The Raiders are fourth after the first 10 rounds and face tests against the 13th-placed Cowboys followed by the 14th-placed Bulldogs in the next two weeks.
The Cowboys have won just of their past six games in Canberra.
"Our biggest expectations, we place on ourselves. That's probably the difference this year, we are trying to be that top four side and a consistent side," said winger Michael Oldfield.
"I know we probably haven't got a couple of wins of late but our performances have been up there. There's still plenty of areas to improve on and I'm sure we will rectify some things for this week but we're just plugging away.
"That's one thing we've got to focus on this week, is to not feel too down on last week. If we bring that against the Cowboys, get a few good decisions our way and a bit of luck our way, hopefully we get a win."
Oldfield, described by his teammates as the perfect man for the Raiders' injury crisis, shifted to the right wing last week to replace Rapana. He was joined by Nick Cotric, who moved to right centre to replace Leilua.
Cotric can force his way into NSW State of Origin conversations if he has a dominant performance against the Cowboys given the Blues are searching for someone to fill the right centre gap.
Cotric was the spark for the Raiders' only try against the Rabbitohs after moving from the left wing to take on the new role.
"It's a good little change up there, gives Nicky a chance in the centres. Big future, that kid, so we're just opening him up a bit, getting him a bit more ball and a bit more exposure," Oldfield said.
"It worked out well for us on the weekend, we played okay. Our combination was quite fine. [Cotric] definitely warmed into it, he was a little bit nervous at first but there were enough calm heads around him to calm him down a bit. As the game progressed he was fine, he did well."
NRL ROUND 11
Saturday: Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys at Canberra Stadium, 3pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Bailey Simonsson, 3. Jarrod Croker, 4. Nick Cotric, 5. Michael Oldfield, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. Sam Williams, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (c), 10. Dunamis Lui, 11. Hudson Young, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Ryan Sutton. Interchange from: 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Joe Tapine, 16. Sia Soliola, 17. Corey Horsburgh, 18. Aidan Sezer, 19. Emre Guler, 20. Sebastian Kris, 21. Royce Hunt.
Cowboys: 1. Jordan Kahu, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O'Neill, 4. Tom Opacic, 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6. John Asiata, 7. Michael Morgan, 8. Matt Scott, 9. Jake Granville, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Coen Hess, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange from: 14. Kurt Baptiste, 15. Mitchell Dunn, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. Francis Molo, 18. Corey Jensen, 19. Shane Wright, 20. Josh McGuire, 21. Jake Clifford.