JT hopes 'Boys will light up Finals

You've heard it straight from the head Cowboy's mouth – not since 2005 has North Queensland had a better chance to break their premiership duck.

At 31, skipper Johnathan Thurston knows the clock is ticking on his chances to secure a maiden title with the club, and is desperate to go 80 minutes further than the last genuine run they made at lifting the Provan-Summons trophy nine years ago.

NRL Telstra Premiership Finals light up Sydney

The Cowboys were downed 30-16 by Wests Tigers in Thurston's second year north of the border and haven't been back to the NRL's biggest ball since, despite possessing a roster many of their competitors would kill to call their own.

North Queensland are arguably better placed now than they were in 2005 when Thurston was paired in the halves by journeyman Brett Firman with jack-in-the-box Matt Bowen out the back, while the likes of Paul Rauhihi, Luke O'Donnell and Shane Tronc toiled away up front in career-best form.

The near-telepathic understanding Thurston shared with Bowen is unlikely to ever be replicated, though surprise packet Michael Morgan is giving it a red-hot go in his first season at fullback, and with all due respect to the Cowboys' pack of 2005, this year's engine room – featuring the game's premier prop Matt Scott, ably supported by human wrecking-balls James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo and the Sims brothers Ashton and Tariq – is a superior model.

Thurston can see the similarities between the Cowboys '05 outfit and the current gang, who meet Brisbane in an all-Queensland showdown in Townsville on Saturday night, and says the side is better placed for a finals assault than in previous campaigns.

"We've got some really experienced players and a really good mix of youth as well which was a bit like that '04/'05 squad, so yeah I can see the similarities there," Thurston said at today's Captains' Call at the SCG.

"I think we're a better team than we were 12 months ago. 

"We're a completely better side to what we were 12 months ago and 24 months ago and we've played some good footy over the last eight weeks... Everyone in the team knows their role a lot better and knows what's expected of them as well." 

Contracted to the Cowboys until the end of 2017, Thurston is only too aware he has a limited amount of time left to add to the premiership ring he won with the Bulldogs in 2004, the same ring he gave to injured skipper Steve Price because he didn't feel he'd earned it after playing just seven games that year.

"I've only got three years after this so as a club I certainly would love to win a premiership before I finish," Thurston says.

"But we've got a great crop of young guys coming through that are starting to experience what it's like to play week-to-week footy so I think the club's in healthy hands over the next few years."

The victims of refereeing blunders in consecutive finals series – a seventh tackle try to Beau Ryan proved the difference in last year's 20-18 lost to Cronulla, while a year earlier Kieran Foran's 'hand of god' sealed their fate – Thurston is adamant the Cowboys have moved on from the incidents that have cut their last two seasons short.

"It would be nice to get a bit of luck from the footy gods but I think destiny is in our own hands and we're the only ones who can control that," he says, adding that a controversial 26-21 loss to the Sea Eagles in Round 7 proved a learning curve for his side.

"We've gotten on with it, we're a different side to 12 months ago so hopefully we're not in that position. 

"It was disappointing, but how can you handle it the right way? 

"We've learnt from games throughout this year. We lost against Manly at the start of the year and we learnt from that pretty quickly.

"Refs are out there to do their job to the best of their ability and I've got full faith in them to do their job. It's up to us now to put the pieces together."