The entire North Queensland population is sweating on the health of superstar captain Johnathan Thurston after he left the field with a left hamstring complaint early in the second half of the Cowboys' 36-0 win over the Bulldogs on Thursday.
Fresh off another State of Origin series win the Cowboys kingpin put forward a true halfback's performance – albeit for just 45 minutes – combining slick foot skills with effective marshalling of his troops and the ability to exploit gaps with his dummy and run.
While Thurston was absent for the final 35 minutes of the game, his side never took the foot off the gas.
The first half was underscored by attacking brilliance, but the theme changed to defence as the home side kept the Dogs in their own half for the rest of the night.
While the visitors earned just two or three genuine chances at points all night, the gate was wide open down the other end.
Thursday had been built up to be a down-to-the-wire thriller between two top-four sides, but the Dogs apparently found zero benefit from their five-day camp in the north, coming out lacking focus.
Physically they were matching the Cowboys in the middle early, but a couple of cheap penalties and bad defensive reads had the score reading 12-0 after nine minutes.
With a crafty play on the ball in a one-on-one tackle off a kick-chase, Thurston drew a knock-on from Sam Perrett which resulted in Antonio Winterstein crossing at the first time of asking. Just minutes later Winterstein was again using his bulk off a sweet right-to-left shift to register more points.
While the Buldogs were chancing their arm with second-phase, ad-lib play, the Cowboys were scrambling to stick every tackle.
Lachlan Coote, Jake Granville and Thurston had the Cowboys working like a Swiss watch, and in the shadows of half-time Thurston put Javid Bowen over on the right to keep momentum going into the break.
Five-eighth Michael Morgan delivered an 'ooh-ahh' moment five minutes into the first half, grubbering for Justin O'Neill after spinning out of a Josh Morris tackle after Kostjasyn's dummy-half scoot put him one-on-one.
Thurston left the field just after O'Neill's try, but the home side kept the foot down through further tries to Ethan Lowe, O'Neill and Winterstein.
North Queensland Cowboys 36 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Justin O'Neill 2, Javid Bowen, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 goals, Ethan Lowe 2 goals) def Canterbury Bulldogs 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Cowboys 16-0. Crowd: 11,620.