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JT stars in NRL return, Cowboys thump Eels

NZN 10/06/2017

A masterclass from returning superstar Johnathan Thurston has led North Queensland to a 32-6 NRL thumping of Parramatta in Darwin.

Thurston, playing his first game in more than a month due to a shoulder injury, had a hand in four of his side's five tries as the Cowboys ran riot on Saturday night in front of an 11,968 crowd at TIO Stadium.

A week-and-a-half out from State of Origin II, it was a performance that would have sent jitters through the NSW camp and put a smile on the face of Queensland coach Kevin Walters who watched on from the commentary box.

After setting up a 14-0 halftime lead with two pinpoint kicks for Kyle Feldt's double, Thurston iced the game early in the second half.

First, he dummied to Maroons hopeful Coen Hess and stepped through the line for an all-too-easy four-pointer before sending the towering Cowboys forward over in the 53rd minute.

Hess also strengthened his case for a Queensland call-up with another blockbusting effort.

"I wonder if we can do that at Origin level. It's a pretty good strike rate," Walters said on the Fox Sports broadcast as Hess crossed for his 10th try of the season.

From the outset, the Eels made clear their intentions to test out Thurston's shoulder and, on numerous occasions, they hit him late.

Parramatta skipper Beau Scott was warned about their treatment of the Cowboys' playmaker after he was knocked to the ground by Kenny Edwards after passing the ball.

"I copped a few late hits early on which tested it out but it's pulled up fine," Thurston said.

"My fitness wasn't too bad. I thought we controlled the ball very well. Our fifth-tackle options were pretty good throughout the game which put us in a good position."

Asked about Thurston's affect on the side, Cowboys coach Paul Green said: "It was a huge boost. He's our captain and our team leader."

The Cowboys likewise set out to give returning Eels playmaker Corey Norman a working over and when Hess hit him as he kicked downfield, Brad Arthur's side appealed for a penalty.

Ironically, the Cowboys were awarded a penalty after Nathan Brown set off a push and shove and Hess' hit was deemed legal.

The Eels scored a late consolation try through Brad Takairangi, however it was too little too late as they had their two-game winning streak snapped and slipped from the top eight.

"We weren't prepared to grind - they were prepared to grind," coach Arthur said.

"JT kicked us to death, controlled the game well, got them back-to-back sets and good field position. That was the difference."

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