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Cowboys face up to NRL life without JT

NZN 22/06/2017 Scott Bailey and Warren Barnsley

North Queensland's Saturday afternoon NRL clash with Penrith in Townsville was meant to be a Johnathan Thurston celebration.

Instead, it will become the best chance for "devastated" Cowboys players to show the steely determination coach Paul Green referenced on Friday when confirming the star halfback's season-ending injury.

Players were informed at training on Friday of Thurston's shoulder surgery news, on the eve of what was originally set to be his 300th NRL game.

It came as a bitter blow to the side, already without fellow co-captain Matthew Scott since his season was ruined by a round-one knee injury.

"(Thurston) is an integral part of the team and the club," Green said.

"He's one of our captains.

"Their (teammates') first thought was for JT, to make sure he's alright ... and, obviously really disappointed for him and devastated."

Thurston has played just once for the Cowboys since round six, having battled calf and shoulder injuries before Wednesday night's final blow in State of Origin II.

While injured, the Cowboys went 3-3 without him, before he returned to help North Queensland flog Parramatta 32-6 and then going into Queensland Origin camp.

And Green has told his men to call on the same spirit that has kept them in the top eight for the past two months, despite being without their two best players.

"It probably gives us a bit of steely determination," Green said.

"We know what we want to achieve this year as a team and that's probably made it a little bit tougher, given how good a player he is."

Saturday will present one of the biggest challenges.

The Panthers have won their past four to surge back into the top eight, averaging 32 points in attack throughout that period.

Green will also opt against giving former Panther Te Maire Martin the first crack at Thurston's role, having only arrived at the club this week from Penrith.

He will stick with rookie Kyle Laybutt in the halves alongside Maroons utility Michael Morgan. Laybutt made his NRL debut in last week's golden-point loss to Melbourne.

"I think Kyle deserves to hold his spot," Green said.

"And given Te Maire's only been here a week, it would be a big ask for him to slot in there in such a key position."

North Queensland's other Maroons Origin stars - Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper - are both expected to play.

STATS THAT MATTER:

* The Cowboys have won only six of 20 in the past five years without Thurston

* North Queensland are 7-1 when scoring 22 points or more at home against Penrith, but 0-8 with 21 or less

* Penrith are aiming to win five straight for just the third time since early 2006

Source: Fox Sports Stats

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