It may be the only way North Queensland can defend their NRL premiership but Johnathan Thurston believes a team can win this year’s competition from outside the top four.
The Cowboys (28pts) sit fifth, four points behind fourth-placed Canterbury (32) after a three-game losing run that has put their hopes of back-to-back titles in jeopardy.
It means to reach the top four, North Queensland essentially need to win their final three regular season matches and hope the Bulldogs drop at least two of their games.
No team has won the title from outside the top four since Canterbury in 1995.
Despite being the stand-out performers all year Melbourne and Cronulla have both stumbled in recent weeks while third-placed Canberra are untested in finals.
The Cowboys are in a slump while grand finalists Brisbane have slumped from first to sixth after a poor run of form.
It’s left the title race wide open and Thurston can see no reason why a team from outside the top four can’t be lifting the Provan-Summons trophy on October 2.
“The Raiders had a good win, obviously the Titans had a good win as well,” Thurston said.
“Do I believe a team from outside the four can win the comp? I do. The competition’s that tight and it’s that even. Any team can beat anyone on their day.”
Despite their recent slump, Thurston is confident the Cowboys aren’t far away from re-discovering their mojo.
It’s a feeling coach Paul Green also shares.
“There’s plenty of accountability and that’s what you want to see when you don’t play up to scratch,” Green said.
“It’ll come back when we’re prepared to fight hard to get it to come back.”