Lachlan Coote will make his return from injury this week but it won't be for the North Queensland Cowboys, with coach Paul Green naming the premiership-winning fullback to return for the Intrust Super Cup's Mackay Cutters.
The decision was made based on Coote's troubled pre-season as well as the performances of stand-in fullback Ben Hampton, who has played the first three round of the Telstra Premiership.
"If you look at [Coote's] pre-season, he hasn't had a full training week yet for probably eight weeks, so I just think it's a risk at this stage given the amount of work he's done," Green said.
"Unfortunately for 'Cootie', he's had a pretty disrupted pre-season, he's only played 10 minutes of footy and that was in that trial match against Melbourne."
"I think the best thing for Cootie - as hard as it might be for him to get his head around - I think he probably needs to go back and play some good footy back there at Q – Cup [Intrust Super Cup]."
"Get a couple of games under his belt, get some confidence in the hamstring and I'm sure before long he'll be back in the side."
Green is hopeful the fullback will make a strong return to the NRL, but isn't willing to take the risk in the early stages of the season.
"We're not at a point as a team where we need to take that risk going into a game just yet," he said.
"No one likes to hear that sort of news, everyone wants to play NRL, but he's a professional, he cares about the team."
The coach was also pleased with Hampton's performances, and feels the fullback deserves to have a place in the side.
"To be fair to Ben Hampton, I think he's done a really good job for us, for him to lose his spot, that wouldn't necessarily be the right thing to do at this stage either," Green said.
The Cowboys have been looking sluggish in defence and blunt in attack throughout the opening stages of the 2018 season, but Green is hopeful consistency in the squad and some more game time under five-eighth Michael Morgan's belt will help resolve those issues.
"I think he'll be better for the run last week, he was probably pretty disappointed, but as a team we haven't really been able to get our combinations going on so far," Green said.
"We've only played a few games so far this year and that was Morgan's first game back as well, I said from the start, despite the fact that we've got some very good players coming back into the team it does take a little while for that to click."