The return of James Tamou to the North Queensland Cowboys, combined with a shortage of back-row options to start the 2023 season at the club could see Coen Hess return to the edge.

Hess has revealed he has spent time training in both the middle and on the edge so far during the pre-season.

It comes as the Cowboys grapple with a depth issue in the outside backs. Thomas Gilbert, who started a majority of games in the second-row last year, has joined the Dolphins, while Ben Condon, who was a back-up option in 2022, has left the club.

Add to that the fact Heilum Luki won't be fit until around Round 5 or 6 in the best case scenario, and that Luciano Leilua is currently subjected to the NRL's no-fault stand-down policy, and the Cowboys are searching for a second-row partner to begin 2023 alongside Jeremiah Nanai, who was the rookie of the year in 2022.

The boom youngster will tie down one spot again in 2023 as he waits to sort his long-term future, but Hess could be the answer to the other side of the park.

A six-time Origin player for Queensland, Hess started his career as a second-rower, but has transitiponed into the middle in recent seasons.

He told the media that he has been training in both positions this pre-season, with the Cowboys suffering no such depth issues in the middle third - all of Tamou, Jordan McLean, Griffin Neame and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown alongside a host of unproven youngsters will be looking to make their mark.

“I'm actually doing a bit of both (front row and second row training). We've got a few backrowers missing for different reasons so it's about being a bit more versatile,” he said.

“I had a whole pre-season at front row last year, so I feel comfortable in that role but it's more just about getting familiar in the back row if so happens that I have to play there for a little bit.

“The NRL season is a bit longer this year and you never know what's going to happen with injuries so pre-season is a good opportunity to get a few reps in everywhere.”

It would appear that Tamou, who struggled during his time at the Wests Tigers but was part of a side who went to the grand final in 2020 at the Penrith Panthers, could be in line for a starting spot.

Hess indicated Tamou is at home at the Cowboys.

“I have a past with Jimmy (Tamou) and I'm so glad to see him back. I've always seen him as a Cowboy and he really fits in among the group, so in my eyes, he's back where he belongs," Hess said.

“He's another old, experienced head. That helped us last year with 'Pet' (Hiku) and Chaddy (Townsend) bringing a lot of experience to the group and Jimmy is of that calibre of player as well.

The Cowboys open their 2023 season on Saturday, March 4 in Townsville against the Canberra Raiders.