Desperate times for frustrated North Queensland Cowboys
NORTH Queensland will travel to Brisbane on Friday, filthy over its failure to sufficiently protect star Johnathan Thurston from a roughing-up last weekend, and with their pride wounded after starting 2015 with successive losses.
It could mean a very tough night for the Broncos, who got on the board last weekend with an ugly 10-2 win over the Sharks, built more on desperate defence than dangerous attack.
Local derbies between the two Queensland clubs need no extra motivation. But the Cowboys have plenty after feeling they let Thurston down when Newcastle's forward Beau Scott resumed his "hit and hurt" campaign on the Queensland and Australian halfback.
Scott successfully employed similar heavy-handed tactics during last year's State of Origin series for New South Wales, and also in last year's NRL round 15 clash.
That proved the catalyst for the Cowboys' barnstorming run to the finals, with- nine wins coming from their next 11 games.
While the players, coach and club officials have held their tongues since Thurston was crunched late, kneed in the head and rammed head-first into the turf in Townsville last Saturday night, the mood within the group suggests it is the last time that will happen to him, or any other Cowboys player.
As one insider admitted off the record, the team would rather finish with 10 men than do nothing the next time one of its players copped similar treatment.
Thurston (pictured) was still stiff and sore yesterday, three days after his pounding. He had to have fluid drained from his swollen eye, but there is no way he will miss Friday night's clash with Brisbane with the club desperate to get a '1' in the wins column after losses to the Roosters and Knights.
The game signals the return to Suncorp Stadium of former Broncos representative prop Ben Hannant, who has started both games for the Cowboys this season and will no doubt like to remind the Broncos, and in particular new coach Wayne Bennett, he is not over the hill.
Hannant made 115m from 14 hit-ups against the Knights, as well as laying 33 tackles in 56 minutes - almost identical to his output the previous week.
Former teammate Corey Parker deflected any suggestions of a grudge match with Hannant, fuelled by Bennett's snub which forced the former Origin prop to link with the Cowboys.
"It's always more than just a game of footy between the Cowboys and Broncos," Parker said.
"It'll be Benny Hannant, Matty Scott ... Jason Taumalolo, and, off the back of that, guys like (Michael) Morgan and Thurston. They've got stars across the park."