Scott must sacrifice Origin for Cowboys
THE North Queensland Cowboys need Matt Scott to stand down from State of Origin selection this year.
Scott is now the most important player in North Queensland's incredibly difficult premiership puzzle.
The indecent assault charge levelled at prop Scott Bolton was the last thing the Cowboys needed for a number of reasons.
Bolton, a veteran of 215 NRL appearances, is an underrated player outside of Townsville.
Many NRL fans would know little about him, even though he played a crucial role in North Queensland's 2015 premiership and last year's grand final appearance.
The only footy he has missed in the past five seasons was in 2015 when he cut his hand in a fishing accident.
Coach Paul Green has an almighty task on his hands to orchestrate the fairytale send-off Johnathan Thurston is chasing in his final NRL season.
The Cowboys are 12th on the ladder after nine rounds with a 3-6 record. It is far from ideal, but their season is not yet over.
However, they are facing a critical problem in their front row stocks.
Star recruit Jordan McLean may not play again this season after suffering a foot injury in his fourth game for the club.
Bench prop John Asiata, another underrated big man, is out for three months after undergoing surgery on a torn pectoral muscle.
Bolton is facing an uncertain short-term future. He may not play on Thursday night against the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval and the mental toll of his predicament could be taxing.
That leaves Scott as North Queensland's last man standing in the front row.
Scott made his debut for the Cowboys in 2004 and has played 242 matches for his only NRL club.
He has been an outstanding ambassador for North Queensland, and along the way developed into the world's best front rower.
Scott made his Origin debut in 2006 before spending three years out of the team, earning a recall in 2009 to become a staple in Mal Meninga's decade of dominance.
He has gone on to play 22 Origins for Queensland and 22 Tests for Australia. He bleeds maroon and missing last year's entire Origin series and World Cup because of a knee injury would have been tough.
But Scott should rule himself out of this year's series to focus on the Cowboys.
If Scott was to play in this year's Origin series he would miss North Queensland's Round 13 trip to face Manly at Lottoland on May 31.
He would then be asked to fly 3000km and back up three days after Origin I in Melbourne on June 6 to face Parramatta in Darwin on June 9.
The stand-alone Game Two will ensure Scott does not miss any NRL action and the Cowboys have a favourable bye before Origin III.
But Scott, 33 in July, would have to back-up three days after Game Three at Suncorp Stadium on July 11 to face the Raiders in Canberra on July 14.
Green has admitted he had ignored the emotion of Thurston's final season during North Queensland's shocking start to the year and challenged his team before last week's upset win against Penrith in Bathurst.
"We've got one of the greatest players to have ever played the game and I don't think we've paid enough attention to the emotional side that it is his last year," Green said on NRL360.
"As a team we need to embrace that a little bit more. Let's be honest, this is our last chance to be involved with one of the game's greats. Let's make sure for his sake, and ours, we all enjoy it.
"Last week was a line in the sand moment. We said 'we're going to make sure he's going out on a good note'."
Thurston and Scott first pulled on Cowboys jerseys alongside each other on July 16, 2005.
Thurston managed 37 games for Queensland during one of the great Origin careers before retiring to focus on his Cowboys swan song.
Scott has had to fight hard for his 22 Origins but there would be no finer way for him to honour his fellow co-captain than to sacrifice a $90,000 Origin payday and commit himself to North Queensland for 2018.
A fortnight ago, I asked Scott whether he would stand down from Origin selection this year following the injuries to McLean and Asiata.
"I'm probably not going to answer that one," he said, knowing the potential gravity of his response.
The Cowboys would never ask Scott to give up his Queensland jersey but they need him more than ever.