'No risks' as Taumalolo eyes NRL return

Powerhouse forward Jason Taumalolo is in doubt for North Queensland's NRL clash with Penrith.
Powerhouse forward Jason Taumalolo is in doubt for North Queensland's NRL clash with Penrith.

North Queensland powerhouse Jason Taumalolo is touch and go to return as he manages a painful foot injury ahead of Friday's clash with Penrith.

Taumalolo leads the NRL with 191 metres earned on average this season and was dearly missed in last week's heavy loss to Newcastle.

Despite training on Thursday, the 26-year-old remains in doubt to play the Panthers.

Cowboys coach Paul Green said the partial plantar fascia tear is causing plenty of pain and it will be matter of how the Tongan star can handle it.

But with finals out of reach for the 15th-placed side the coach said they'd take "no silly risks" by pushing him into an early return.

Panther coach Ivan Cleary will plan for his presence in what he accepts is a must-win clash for the ninth-placed side.

Cleary's also backed teenage winger Stephen Crichton in his exciting aerial duel with Kyle Feldt.

Crichton, 18, replaced veteran Josh Mansour (back) on the flank and will have a big role considering the Panthers have scored a bigger percentage of tries through kicks (17 of 55 at 30.9) than any other team this season.

"One of his best attributes is his ability in the air," Cleary said of Crichton.

"He's pretty pumped about playing, coming up against a good one (in Feldt), I'm sure he'll do well."

Penrith will also be wary of halfback Jake Clifford's running game as the 21-year-old continues to make his mark on the NRL.

Clifford is the same age as Cleary's son Nathan, who will pull the strings alongside James Maloney in Townsville on Friday.

"He's coming along really nicely, has got a good opportunity and seems to be taking it with both hands," Cleary said.

"One of his strengths is his running game ... any good halfback has to have that in his armoury.

"He's scored a few tries (three in 15 games this season); we have to understand that's a weapon of his and try and shut it down."

Australian Associated Press