Jonathan Thurston stars as Cowboys beat Bulldogs


Jonathan Thurston in action..Image credit: NRL.COM
Johnathan Thurston sparked North Queensland to a season-opening 24-12 NRL win over Canterbury on Saturday night but the best news for the Cowboys is that their off-contract maestro is favoured to re-sign with the club.
Thurston confirmed after the game he will make a decision on his playing future this week and the Cowboys believe their skipper will stay.
Thurston wasted no time showing why he's the most sought-after man in the game, setting up three tries in a master-class performance, the first try after just 60 seconds.
Coach Neil Henry, happy with his team's second half shut-out in defence against the Bulldogs, said he was confident Thurston would re-sign despite big-money approaches from rival clubs.
"My gut feeling all along has been he'll stay," said Henry.
"Until it's done, it's not done but I'm confident the club ... have been able to put something together to enable him to stay at the Cowboys.
"I think there's a bit of clarity about the whole thing now and we will get something this week."
It shapes as a huge decision for the Queensland star who is 29 and has a baby due mid-year.
A long-term deal could be the last contract he signs.
Thurston is desperate to win a second premiership before he retires and early indications are the Cowboys have assembled the team to go all the way.
Thurston told AAP it would be a relief to get his future finalised.
"That's right. Really looking forward to the season," he said.
"I'll make a decision this week."


Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott re-committed to the Cowboys recently and said Thurston's signature would be a significant boost to a team on the rise.
"There's a lot of faith in our squad at the moment," Scott said.
"I offered Johno to babysit his kid when it comes along if he stays so fingers crossed ... he stays with us."
North Queensland and Canterbury had it confirmed just how invaluable their respective stars are, with Thurston in everything against the Ben Barba-less Bulldogs.
Canterbury were missing seven players from last year's grand final-qualifying team - but it came as no surprise that the most significant absentee was Barba, who is suspended and attempting to rectify personal problems off the field.
The Bulldogs battled on without forwards James Graham (suspended), Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard (both injured), but sorely missed the match-turning ability of Barba and the confidence he brings the team.
Last year, the Bulldogs rolled over the top of teams like an unstoppable machine.
But without Barba, their error rate was high and they took poor options at the crucial moments.
That's not to say Barba's replacement at fullback Drury Low wasn't impressive, and that the 'Dogs aren't capable of shaking off early season rust and still being a force.
"We were just guilty of too many errors and you can't give a side like the Cowboys who have some really experienced campaigners cheap possession," said Bulldogs coach Des Hasler.
Barba's return date is unknown, Graham is out until mid-season and Pritchard and Kasiano are unavailable until at least round five.
For the Cowboys, it might only be round one, but beating last year's grand finalists away from home in Gosford was an encouraging sign.
Ash Graham scored two tries for the Cowboys who kicked on from an 18-12 halftime lead.
NRL.COM

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