North Queensland coach Paul Green hailed Johnathan Thurston’s toughness after the champion playmaker delivered another rugby league masterclass to lead the Cowboys to a 30-10 NRL win over Penrith on Monday night.
Picking up where he left off last Monday night in the Cowboys’ golden-point triumph over Melbourne, Thurston had a hand or foot in all five of his side’s tries at Pepper Stadium.
Winless in their first three games, a six-point defeat would have left the Cowboys last after five rounds.
Instead they’re now on the cusp of the top eight alongside the Panthers – and once again the Cowboys have Thurston to thank.
It looked like being a long night for the Queenslanders when James Segeyaro scored a soft try from dummy-half in the seventh minute.
Then Thurston went to work.
The champion halfback set up North Queensland’s first try – to winger Matthew Wright – with a lovely long ball to centre Tautau Moga, the second for fullback Lachlan Coote with a clever kick into in-goal before breaking clear and racing 40 metres to put his team on the attack late in the first half.
The Cowboys scored from the next play before Thurston’s deft short ball for Ethan Lowe’s try six minutes into the second half, and successful conversion, shot the Cowboys to a 22-6 lead.
A Dean Whare four-pointer gave Penrith hope but when video referees overturned Matt Cecchin’s awarding of a try to Josh Mansour, Panthers fans were livid.
Thurston put the result beyond doubt with a penalty goal nine minutes from fulltime before he iced his brilliant display with a cut-out pass for Wright’s hat-trick late on.
“It was a top-class performance,” Green said.
“Obviously everyone sees the tries and the try assists and things like that, but there was some really tough efforts there when the game was in the balance.
“When we were trading sets, he was kicking and leading and he really put them under the pump down there with some real big plays there off the ball that not everyone sees.”
The match wasn’t without drama, with the Panthers controversially denied two tries by the video referees and the Cowboys awarded one after an overrule by the same officials.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary couldn’t understand why fullback Matt Moylan, deemed to have been held up, and winger Josh Mansour, who was ruled to have lost possession, had tries disallowed.
Cecchin thought both players had scored before video referees Ashley Klein and Henry Perenara overruled after poring over at least seven or eight replays.
“We’ve had a few of these in the last few weeks,” Cleary said.
“I would say that if there’s enormous amount of replays being done, then there’s got to be some doubt.”
Having lost three straight games for the first time since 2013, the Panthers had some relief post-match when skipper Peter Wallace said a knee injury suffered late in the match wasn’t serious and wouldn’t rule him out of Saturday’s clash with Manly.