RUGBY LEAGUE: At the start of last pre-season Ethan Lowe was enduring the lonely rehab road on the long way back from a neck injury.
But the Cowboys back-rower is confident a clean bill of health will ensure he starts 2018 without the mental doubts he confronted this year.
Lowe's 2016 NRL finals campaign was cut short when he suffered a serious neck injury against Melbourne.
The 26-year-old has previously admitted to suffering nerves upon his return this year, especially when tackling, but still managed to be one of the Cowboys' best.
"I think I spent until January or February running by myself, which wasn't great fun,” Lowe said.
"I was pretty much doing rehab running by myself and didn't start contact until a couple of weeks before our first game.
"I was definitely behind the eight ball last year, but this year being here from the start it will definitely be an advantage.”
The Cowboys' long injury list in 2017 forced Lowe to play in the middle at times. But the return of prop Matt Scott, plus the acquisition of Storm and Australia front-rower Jordan McLean, should ensure he stays out wide in 2018.
The Cowboys' forward pack still managed to hold its own without Scott, with Jason Taumalolo lifting another level and Scott Bolton enjoying a career-best year.
"We've got a couple of big boys coming in, Thump (Scott) and Jordan played outstanding for Australia,,” Lowe said.
"I think we were able to show that with Hulky (Taumalolo) and Bolts (Bolton) this year, they worked outstanding together so throwing two other very good front-rowers in that mix is definitely going to be a positive.”
Cowboys assistant coaches David Fairleigh and Todd Payten are overseeing training with head coach Paul Green in America undergoing a course at Harvard University.
But the squad isn't relaxing while the boss is away, getting through a gruelling session at Townsville Sports Reserve yesterday where fullback Lachlan Coote had to get his head bandaged up after a head clash with Lowe.
"We've got to keep the standards while he's away, we've got the relief teachers in they like to be called,” Lowe said.
"They're working us pretty hard.”
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.