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Winning without Thurston simple: Cowboys

NZN 11/04/2017 Laine Clark

The stats may say different but the formula to winning without Johnathan Thurston is pretty simple, North Queensland coach Paul Green says.

Green has given Ben Hampton first crack at filling in for Thurston at halfback after confirming the Cowboys co-captain would miss "two to three weeks" with a calf injury.

Hampton will wear Thurston's No.7 jersey for Saturday night's clash with NRL ladder leaders St George Illawarra in Wollongong.

It remains to be seen if anyone can truly replace the North Queensland match winner.

In the past five years the Cowboys have won three of 13 games without Thurston.

Overall they have a 29 per cent winning record without the Test and Queensland half.

However, Green was unconcerned.

"It's not about convincing them (they can win without Thurston)," he said.

"We just need to come up with a game plan that suits the players that we do have and getting them to buy in to it.

"Belief is strong within the club.

"Our culture has been a winning one for a few years now.

"Whoever pulls the jumper on has a job to do - simple as that."

Hampton may not have to fill the void for long with Green hinting that Thurston may be available in a fortnight.

"In the past he's been a pretty good healer so we won't have him available for this week and most likely next week but we will see how he heals," Green said.

Thurston suffered the injury late in last weekend's shock home loss to Wests Tigers.

Green said the Cowboys would take a cautious approach with Thurston after fullback Lachlan Coote's calf dramas.

Coote has been ruled out for a second straight match, ensuring young gun Kalyn Ponga retains the No.1 jersey.

Coote suffered the calf injury in round two, only to aggravate the complaint in his comeback match two weeks later.

He hasn't played since.

"You don't want to risk anyone because if he tears it properly it can be a six, eight, 10 week injury," Green said of Thurston.

"We don't want that for anyone, let alone JT.

"We won't risk him. We don't need to.

"We will get him back when he is ready to play."

Green said Coote was "touch and go" to play but opted for a settled side ahead of their clash with the Dragons.

"This week is really important with the guys we have on the sideline that we settle on a team and train and execute well for the game against St George," he said.

The Cowboys injury list also includes Matt Scott (knee), Jake Granville (leg) and Antonio Winterstein (arm).

However, Queensland centre Justin O'Neill (hamstring) returns to face the Dragons.

"I nearly kissed the physio when he told me," Green said of O'Neill's availability.

Bench forward Corey Jensen will make his NRL debut.

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