Big shoes await Coen Hess after North Queensland enforcer Jason Taumalolo was ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a knee injury.
Hess is expected to step up in the starting side for the Cowboys powerhouse who has been diagnosed with a grade-three medial ligament tear suffered in their NRL round two loss to Brisbane.
North Queensland hoped scans would reveal damage on the lower end of the scale but were left reeling when told Taumalolo would be sidelined for six to 10 weeks.
A week after running 301m in the season-opening win against St George Illawarra, Taumalolo damaged his knee in a tackle early in Friday's Broncos clash and battled on before being replaced in the 34th minute.
He took no part in the second half as Brisbane stormed to a 29-10 win at Suncorp Stadium.
Hess was moved to the bench before kick-off against the Broncos and made just 76m in 58 minutes as the Cowboys pack struggled to fill the void created by Taumalolo's injury.
North Queensland's plight was also not helped by having just one man on the bench after also losing utility John Asiata and winger Nene Macdonald to head knocks.
"We just ran out of troops in the end there," Hess said.
"That took its toll on our energy levels. (But) they were too good through the middle."
However, Hess will have no choice but to find another gear with the towering backrower expected to earn a Cowboys start in the Tongan wrecking ball's absence.
Hess seems ready for the challenge after bulking up to 114kg by adding 5kg over the pre-season.
He averaged 99m over 23 games in 2018.
Hess said the Cowboys looked forward to regrouping at home as they prepared to start life without Taumalolo.
North Queensland's Saturday night clash with Cronulla starts a run of three straight games in Townsville.
"We wanted to start the year really well," Hess said.
"Hopefully it was a little hiccup (against Brisbane) and we can get home, get into a little routine and build for a good year."
Cowboys coach Paul Green said after the Broncos loss that he expected Macdonald and Asiata to play against the Sharks.
North Queensland will now be sweating on Taumalolo returning in six weeks, ahead of their clash with South Sydney in round nine.