Ex-Test enforcer Greg Dowling has rejected Johnathan Thurston’s claim that he has been unfairly targeted, saying the North Queensland No.7 should take the heavy contact as a compliment.
Thurston renewed calls for more playmaker protection after complaining about a string of heavy hits in the Cowboys’ last round NRL loss to South Sydney.
And Dowling believed Thurston would cop some more treatment from a monster Warriors pack at Auckland on Saturday as the Cowboys try to lock up a top four spot.
But Dowling did not believe Thurston had any grounds for complaint.
“Anyone worth their salt in this game is going to try and take out the main playmaker,” he told AAP.
“Has he been unfairly targeted? I don’t reckon, no.
“No more than any other halfback, put it that way.
“Tomorrow should be another physical clash for him.”
Dowling believed Thurston should take the attention from defenders as a compliment.
“It’s a testament to how good he is,” he said.
“When Thurston takes it to the line you’ve got to be on him because he has such a bag of tricks.
“I am a big fan. He is the ultimate competitor. He is the Cowboys.”
Dowling tipped North Queensland to snap a two game losing run and notch their first win in New Zealand since 2009.
Dowling said the Warriors were “not a force” without playmaker Shaun Johnson (ankle).
“It’s like taking Thurston out of the Cowboys,” he said.
“The Cowboys forwards have been a bit scratchy over the last couple of weeks but this team has been fairly dominant throughout the season.
“They have been dudded in the finals the last few years but there is plenty of big match experience there to get them home (on Saturday).”
The Warriors have won four of the past six clashes – and seven of eight at home – against the Cowboys but they have woeful recent form, dropping the last five games.
Mason Lino has been called up to make his NRL debut as Warriors pivot, replacing Chad Townsend (illness) who was admitted to an Auckland hospital on Tuesday night.
“Chad hasn’t trained all week and he’s still not right so we made the call to bring in Mason,” said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden.
– Since their losing streak began in round 19 the Warriors have scored the fewest tries and points of any team in the competition (7.2 points per game)
– From 2014-15, the Warriors have won 20 of 23 matches conceding less than 21 points but have triumphed only once in 22 when they have conceded 21 points or more
– The Cowboys have made the most run metres of any team in 2015, averaging almost 1600 per game while conceding the fewest (1353 per game)