Race to avoid spoon heats up
A CANDID Johnathan Thurston gave a scathing appraisal of his form, declaring he "has a lot of work to do" after the Cowboys' wooden spoon odds only shortened after Saturday's 24-10 home loss to the Dragons.
It was North Queensland's fifth straight loss, which now puts them equal last with Parramatta and Canterbury on four wins each with six rounds remaining.
The Cowboys have also lost five straight home games for the first time since 2008, and will look to snap that run when they host Newcastle on Friday night.
They host the Eels in the retiring Thurston's final home game of his career in round 24, before he farewells the game against the Titans on the Gold Coast.
Those two matches loom as critical as the club looks to avoid sending Thurston out with the first spoon of his career.
The 35-year-old was targeted heavily in defence by the Dragons, especially by enforcer Tariq Sims, missing seven of 24 tackles.
Thurston is working feverishly to try and turn the Cowboys fortunes around, working himself to the point of exhaustion to put himself on the ball.
But without injured props Matt Scott and Jordan McLean, the Cowboys forward pack is struggling to give him space to weave his magic.
"(I was) a little bit disappointed personally with my performance tonight," Thurston said.
"Probably defensively (it) wasn't up to standard tonight and we put ourselves under the pump with simple one-on-one misses. I've got a lot of work to do.
"We lacked concentration in some areas but I can't fault the effort the boys busted their rear ends out.
"That's all I ask of the playing group is to keep doing that over the last six weeks."
Thurston's Cowboys teammates spoke ad nauseam about lifting for him in the back end of the season, and the effort hasn't dissipated.
But they are down on belief and confidence, and Te Maire Martin said it's difficult watching Thurston struggle with their plight.
"It's hard seeing how much he puts in every week. You see it on his face how exhausted and tired he is," Martin said.
"He's always on the move and where he needs to be. He's always putting himself in positions to help the team, and it's really disappointing to not get the result for him.
"I know the boys are trying to work hard for Johnno because it's disappointing seeing him the way he is."
Cowboys coach Paul Green said fundamental errors which handed momentum back to the Dragons robbed them of any hope of victory.
The Cowboys trailed just 12-10 late in the first half, but a dropped ball from Corey Jensen the first tackle from a drop out handed momentum to the visitors.
From the scrum Sims scored to give the Dragons an 18-10 halftime lead.
"(It was a) massive change, they scored the other end. We've got them under the pump at that stage," Green said.
"The forward pass in the second half, it lets the pressure completely off.
"In some respects we shot ourselves in the foot. When we worked our way back into the game and probably were right on top, we came up with a simple error and released the pressure valve."
Remaining 2018 schedule
Parramatta (16th, ten points, -134): Rabbitohs (a), Titans (h), Dragons (h), Storm (a), Cowboys (a), Roosters (h)
Cowboys (15th, ten points, -102): Knights (h), Roosters (a), Broncos (h), Sharks (a), Eels (h), Titans (a)
Bulldogs (14th, ten points, -87): Tigers (h), Broncos (h), Sea Eagles (a), Warriors (h), Dragons (a), Sharks (h)
Sea Eagles: 13th, 12 points, -89: Panthers (h), Sharks (a), Bulldogs (h), Titans (h), Tigers (a), Broncos (a)