The North Queensland Cowboys dominated the Bulldogs on Thursday night, winning the Round 20 clash 36-0.
It was a strong showing on the run to the finals, where top four positions are highly sought after in such a close competition. Despite the big win, the major talking point of the night was Johnathan Thurston’s hamstring injury, overshadowing the result.
While Thurston is confident he won’t miss a game, telling the Nine Network "It's not too bad — it is just more of a precaution. I should be right [for next week]. It is just cotton wool,” the Cowboys need not worry.
In years gone by, before their Premiership success, when Thurston wasn’t in the side the team struggled. There was no cohesion, less structure, a lack of go-forward, and no creativity. But with Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote, and Jake Granville in the side, Thurston’s absence will not leave as big of a hole in the team.
Rat Thompson is expected to come into the side if Thurston is to miss the Storm clash and at worst case the Wests Tigers clash in two weeks. Thompson would sit back and play structured footy, allowing Morgan to use his creative play-making ability in attack. Coote, the league’s best attacking kicker, will be the go-to for field position, try opportunities, and forced drop-outs on the fifth tackle option.
Matt Scott will assume captaincy, and while the co-captain isn’t as vocal as Thurston, he leads by example through his work rate and determination. His leadership values are underappreciated outside of the Cowboys setup, and he will be able to rally his team in crunch times if required.
There are no arguments that Thurston is one of the best in the game, and a future immortal, but with the squad the Cowboys have assembled, results do not weigh solely on his shoulders anymore.
Even if it is only a twinge, resting Thurston for at least one game may be the best option. He has a heavy workload each year, and the week off will give him time to refresh his body and mind. North Queensland are genuine contenders to go back-to-back, and if they are to do so, they will need their chief play-maker at his peak.