Cowboys wary of sad send-off for Thurston
North Queensland centre Ben Hampton reckons the Cowboys are letting superstar Johnathan Thurston down in his final NRL season with their dismal start.
And he's not the only Cowboy to feel the weight of responsibility to get Thurston to a fourth - and last - grand final.
The 35-year-old's halves partner Michael Morgan is also hoping the Cowboys send Thurston out on a high note, which won't be easy after six losses in their first nine games.
"I'd like nothing more than for us to have a very good year in his last season," Morgan said.
"It has crossed my mind through the year that it'd be a shame if his final season was a bad one for the club.
"It is unfortunate we have started the way we have. But we've put ourselves in this position and it's only us that will get us out.
"Some of the footy the other night [against Penrith was] a lot better than what we have been playing, which was too uptight and worried about making errors."
Hampton admitted to a sense of letting Thurston down in his 17th year of NRL.
"A hundred per cent," Hampton said in the countdown to Thursday's Indigenous Round road game against the Tigers.
"It's a hard one to explain but you do feel like it. Everything he's done for that club, the sport, the NRL - it does kind of feel you're letting him down a little bit. Hopefully we find some form now after last week and build on that and start to turn the year around."
Not only are the Cowboys trying to extricate themselves from the doldrums, Thurston has been copping criticism that his 35-year-old body is finally betraying him and causing some errors in his game.
The statistics say otherwise, with Thurston leading the NRL in both try assists (10) and line break assists (nine).
"Johnno will go down as one of the better players to ever play the game," Hampton said.
"He's a great bloke and really good leader. For myself he's someone I really look up to, feed off, and stuff like that.
"He doesn't worry too much about stats, or what people say about him. He's been through that all before. He just concentrates on what he has to do for the team."
Morgan knows the Cowboys' 12th spot on the ladder isn't helping.
"When a team is going well the halves get a lot of the raps, and when teams go bad the opposite thing happens," Morgan said.
"As his teammate it certainly hurts a bit to think people have said those things about him because of how good he has been for so long.
"Being his last season I'd love nothing more than to send him out as the champion he is. But we also know he's not struggling."
Hampton says players can't let the 'Thurston Farewell Tour' occupy their minds.
"It's always been there with everyone but we haven't really spoken about it too much because it's hard to play on emotion every single week," Hampton said.
"It's definitely something I think about a fair bit. I'm sure the whole squad is exactly the same."