New Cowboy Josh McGuire.

Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin will run the show and Test and Origin forward Josh McGuire will ride the pine as the North Queensland Cowboys enter the post-Thurston era on Saturday night.

In a major selection shock, 194-game veteran McGuire will start from the bench as Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo get stuck into the opening exchanges against the Dragons.

Coach Paul Green says his decision was based purely on form and he still expects McGuire to have a big impact.

“Sometimes people get a bit tied up particularly through the forwards about whether you start them or whether you come off the bench,” Green said.

“We need to start well as a team and as a club and I've picked the team on form and I’ve got to be consistent with that."

Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin.
Cowboys five-eighth Te Maire Martin. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

New captain Morgan and 23-year-old Martin will be expected to take control of a backline which takes on a very different look to 2018 with Jordan Kahu at fullback, Nene Macdonald on the wing and former Bronco Tom Opacic in the centres.

Youngster Jake Clifford had been staking a claim to partner Morgan in the halves but Green has opted for a proven combination.

“I think Jake's progressing nicely but he's still just got to get a bit more consistency at NRL level but there's not much between them so it's good healthy competition," Green said.

“They've [Martin and Morgan] played a bit of footy together so hopefully that'll help."

Apart from the call on whether McGuire started the game, Green also agonised over the centre position, where Opacic got the nod over Ben Hampton, who has played 48 games for the Cowboys during the past two seasons.

“That was probably one of the hardest decisions, whether or not to go with Ben or Tom but the team will pick itself hopefully by how we play, so the challenge for the guys that have got that opportunity is to try and keep it," Green said.

“Tom's done everything asked of him in pre-season and just improved each week which is what we want to see.”

Green said Opacic’s trial form had been strong following groin surgery in the off-season and he deserved his shot in a new-look backline Cowboys fans can open the season with a bang in Townsville on Saturday night.

The absence of 2015 grand final hero Kyle Feldt with a groin injury suffered at training last Friday robs the home team of potency in the air and in the corner but Green is hopeful the winger won't be out for an extended period.

"We're monitoring that and working at getting to the bottom of exactly what it's all about," the coach said.