North Queensland forward Josh McGuire will be forced to have surgery on the knee he injured during the NRL Nines tournament.
Scans on Monday confirmed McGuire tore the medial meniscus in his left knee in Saturday's quarter-final win over South Sydney.
"McGuire will have surgery in Townsville (on Tuesday) and is expected to return by round 2," the club said in a statement.
McGuire was set to miss the club's round-one match against Brisbane in any case due to a one-game suspension stemming from a tripping charge in his final game last year.
The development sours the Cowboys' Nines triumph in Perth, where they outlasted St George Illawarra in the final to claim the trophy.
McGuire's absence leaves North Queensland without some crucial front-row experience for their opening clash against their state rivals.
He is slated to start alongside key prop Jordan McLean and star lock Jason Taumalolo in arguably the best middle rotation in the competition.
Coach Paul Green is now likely to rely on the likes of John Asiata, Emry Pere, and Francis Molo to fill the role on March 13.
The contest doubles as the first game at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
The Cowboys also have a trial against the Broncos in Cairns on Saturday, with Valentine Holmes expected to make his first appearance in club colours.
North Queensland will then finalise preparations for the season proper with a hitout against Melbourne on February 29.
Australian Associated Press