Young Cowboys expect to get targeted

Cowboys inclusions Jahrome Hughes and Coen Hess are well aware of the targets on their backs when they line up against the Dragons on Saturday.

The challenges come two-fold for both players. Hughes will step up from the fullback position at Intrust Super Cup level to the front line at NRL level, while Hess' physical challenge shifts from playing second row in the under-20s to a front-row or lock role in top grade.

Both will line up in their second NRL games, with Hughes making his debut as an 18-year-old with Gold Coast and Hess arriving onto the scene for the Cowboys in Round 25 last year against the Warriors.

Five-eighth Hughes predicts a Dragons parade down his side of the field as they look to test the youngster's mettle.

"They are probably going to throw heaps of tackles down my end and I'm just going to have to keep making them and making them. But I'm happy to do that, I'm sweet," he said.

"I don't mind defending. Obviously it's going to be a bit different to defending in the Q-Cup, but I've just got to get my body in front and help out the edges.

"I think they will see me and Ray named in the halves and I think they will try to target us, but we've both going to play to the best of our ability and the boys around us are going to help us so we will be all right."

Over the last couple of seasons the Cowboys have done a good job protecting playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan, with workhorse back-rowers Ethan Lowe and Gavin Cooper ranking sixth and seventh respectively in total tackles by a second-rower in the NRL.

That 'bodyguard' role has been a staple of the Cowboys' defensive system, and Hess says his halves can feel safe again this week.

"The systems we have in place in defence always cover the halves in general, so we just follow our systems and hopefully guys like Jahrome can get protected," he said.

"I guess being a younger fella, all the old heads want to get one on you.

"Jahrome, being in the front line of defence might be a bit different for him."

At just 19 years old, Hess in particular has been touted as one of the key players of the Cowboys' next generation, with Saturday seen as a gauge as to the progress of the Junior Kangaroo.

"I've been pretty happy with my form recently, so I will be looking forward to taking that into this weekend. I'm playing in the front-row or in the lock position this week, so it's a different role," he said.

"I've packed on two or three more kilos since last year, and I feel a lot fitter, so that's a credit to the pre-season that we do here.

"I feel pretty comfortable at the weight I am now, and my fitness.

"[NRL] is a lot faster and everyone's a bit bigger... the bigger bodies, the bigger hits.

"A few more bumps and bruises the next day."