Cowboys can bounce back: Thurston
RETIRED Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston is adamant the club can handle his absence and bounce back immediately from a disappointing season next year.
But coach Paul Green is under no illusions of the task that lies ahead as North Queensland attempts to move forward without one of the all-time greats.
The Cowboys were touted as premiership favourites pre-season, but Saturday's win over Gold Coast in Thurston's final game was just their eighth and they finished in 13th place.
Although they won't play finals for the first time since 2010 they finished strongly with four wins from the last six games, the losses against premiership contenders Cronulla and the Roosters.
Star half Michael Morgan, who steered the Cowboys to last year's grand final when Thurston was out injured, will return from a pectoral issue, while youngster Jake Clifford has shown promise.
North Queensland has looked like a different team when their big-name middle third rotation Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo have all been fit late in the season.
"The playing group we've got, it (success) is not too far in the future. I expect us to bounce back next year with the roster we've got," Thurston said.
Green is similarly optimistic, but knows there's plenty of work to be done.
"It's a huge transition for us. Last year gave us a bit of a taste, but it's different because he was still around training last year.
"It will be different for all of us when we turn up to pre-season training and we don't hear that laugh.
"It's a big challenge, but if we approach it the right way (we'll be fine). As long as we don't fall into the trap of trying to replace him or trying to find the next JT, we'll be OK."
A handful of players will farewell the club including 2015 premiership heroes Kane Linnett and Lachlan Coote, while forward Shaun Fensom capped his last game as a Cowboy with his lone try of the season against the Titans.
Green confirmed yesterday young Broncos centre Tom Opacic will join the Cowboys next year.
It's a handy addition with stalwart outside backs Linnett and Antonio Winterstein leaving.
"He's a good young centre, he'll add some depth. He's a strong defensive player, probably similar to Kane early in his career," Green said.
The Cowboys are expected to sign former Cronulla fullback Ben Barba to a one-year deal, leaving them room to make a big play for current Sharks custodian Valentine Holmes for 2020 onwards.