The North Queensland Cowboys will be without both Peta Hiku and Scott Drinkwater for the next few weeks after the backline duo accepted early guilty pleas for charges stemming from Friday's loss to Brisbane.

Hiku will miss two matches following a first-half crusher tackle on Corey Oates, whilst fullback Drinkwater will sit out three matches for a shoulder charge on Oates early in the second stanza.

Drinkwater was sin-binned for the incident, however the news is worse for the Broncos' winger, who'll be sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a broken jaw due to the collision.

It's a monumental blow for the Cowboys after a shaky start to the season, beating Canberra by a point in Townsville before the 12 point loss to Brisbane over the weekend.

Both players will miss the next two games, home clashes against the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans, while Drinkwater will also miss their Round 5 match against Canterbury in Sydney.

It's a case of one door closes and another opens in Townsville though, with a host of players biding their time and waiting for a first-grade opportunity.

Brendan Elliott is all but guaranteed to snare one of the two vacancies after starting as 18th man in both of the Cowboys' opening clashes, the other spot comes down to how Todd Payten rejigs his backline.

Drinkwater's absence begs the question as to whether the Cowboys would shift Valentine Holmes back into the fullback role, or bring a rookie into the role, and leave Val out wide alongside Murray Taulagi.

History would suggest the former, however an impressive performance from Jordan Lipp for the Townsville Blackhawks over the weekend could push him up the ranks, while Elliott and Tom Chester could also fill that void.

NRL Rd 17 - Knights v Sharks
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 04: Gehamat Shibasaki of the Newcastle Knights is tackled during the round 17 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Cronulla Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium on September 04, 2020 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Hiku's crusher tackle opens up the right centre role, which looks to be a battle between Elliott once again, and former Broncos' centre Gehamat Shibasaki.

Shibasaki hasn't been spotted in the NRL since playing three games for Newcastle in 2021, moving to rugby union shortly after only to return to the 13-man code with North Queensland.

The 25-year-old set up a try over the weekend and ran in excess of 150 metres in Hostplus Cup, and suddenly finds himself in contention with almost the entire Townsville Blackhawks' backline.

Wing duo Laitia Moceidreke and Robert Derby were impressive, however it's unlikely a flank spot opens up unless Murray Taulagi switches to the centres, where he's played just five NRL games.

Expect Valentine Holmes to move to fullback with Murray Taulagi and Kyle Feldt remaining on the wings, while former Knights pair Brendan Elliott and Gehamat Shibasaki fill-in as a makeshift centre pairing.

Don't be surprised if Tom Chester sneaks his way into the back five by game day.