Zac Laybutt may be missing the first week of pre-season in Townsville but the rookie centre is hoping to impress coach Todd Payten all the way from Port Moresby in Sunday's Pacific Bowl final.
After playing four NRL games at centre in 2023, the 21-year-old has a big opportunity to replace departing Peta Hiku on the Cowboys right edge in 2024.
Now adding an international campaign for Papua New Guinea to his resume, the Townsville Blackhawk is hoping to make a strong case to be the Cowboys' new No.4 when he graduates into the top 30 next year.
“There’s a spot opening up there at the Cows so hopefully I can put my best foot forward here and give it a red-hot crack next year,” Laybutt said in Port Moresby.
“This experience can only benefit me as a player and I'm still only young and just trying to learn as much as I can.
“I signed that top 30 contract last year for this season… and throughout the year I got a lot of advice from Todd and Dean Young who I really looked up to there as our defensive coach.
“They've always been transparent with me and told me about their signings and where I sit on the pecking order.”
Extended Try: Zac Laybutt
Joining his brother Kyle this year in Port Moresby, the Bundaberg-born centre enjoyed a stellar Test debut for the Kumuls opening match against the Cook Islands, racking up two tries, an assist and ten tackles at centre.
But after going down to Fiji 43-16 on Sunday, Laybutt is hoping his side can turn the tables and build on their attacking combinations for Sunday's rematch in the Pacific Bowl final.
Zac Laybutt grabs a double
“We’re working on those combinations and hopefully we can bring it all together this weekend and score a few tries down that left side,” he said.
“Obviously it was a devastating feeling but we know the areas we went wrong in, have shown plenty of improvement this week and hopefully we can put it to show on the weekend.
“It’s about focusing on ourselves, the areas that we played well in against Cook Island and Australia - we completed well, we didn't give away many penalties, but didn't do that on the weekend.
“So we just need to fix up those little areas, we know we can be a lot better than what we were.”
Match: Fiji Bati v PNG Kumuls
Venue: Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby