Johnathan Thurston has delivered another rugby league masterclass to lead North Queensland to a 30-10 NRL win over Penrith at Pepper Stadium.
Picking up where he left off last Monday night, Thurston had a hand or foot in all five of his side’s tries as the Cowboys’ early-season revival continued.
But 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.
Winless in their first three games, a six-point defeat would have left the Cowboys dead last after five rounds.
Instead they’re now on the cusp of the top eight alongside the Panthers – and once again, the Cowboys had 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.
Fullback Lachlan Coote pounced on Thurston’s short kick into the in-goal for the Cowboys’ second in the 22nd minute before Wright grabbed his second after Thurston broke clear and raced 40 metres to put his team on the attack.
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 Ashley Klein and Henry Perenara overturned Matt Cecchin’s awarding of a try to winger 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.
Compounding Penrith’s woes was an apparent knee injury to skipper Peter Wallace.
With his halves partner Jamie Soward already sidelined following back surgery, the Panthers will be desperately hoping Wallace’s injury isn’t as serious as the torn ACL he sustained last year.
With officials eager to avoid any repeat of the ugly post-match scenes that marred the Good Friday showdown between South Sydney and Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, beefed-up security staff flanked the referees as they headed to the sheds to jeers from Penrith fans.