'He's still the best player we've known': Dragons remain wary of JT
St George Illawarra halfback Ben Hunt has defended the form of Johnathan Thurston but hopes to inflict more misery on the North Queensland superstar's farewell season as the Dragons aim to get their premiership campaign back on track in Townsville on Saturday night.
The Cowboys are in danger of finishing with the wooden spoon but Hunt said it wasn't Thurston's fault last year's grand finalists had won just four games.
"I still think he's doing everything well," Hunt said of Thurston. "I don't think he's the reason they're losing games. He's playing quality footy, he still gets his hands on the ball a lot, he’s still got a good kicking game and is defending well.
"He's still the player we've known him to be. Whenever he went out to play he was close to the best on the field every time, and that's something I admired about him."
A loss on Saturday night will relegate the Cowboys to equal last if Parramatta beat Canterbury on Thursday night match.
After suffering successive losses for the first time this season, Hunt said the Dragons were determined to end their slide.
He said a review of last Sunday's 20-16 defeat by Wests Tigers had identified that the St George Illawarra players weren't doing the little things which had helped them climb to the top of the Telstra Premiership season for most of the season.
After the disruption of State of Origin, in which he was one of five Dragons players involved, Hunt said the team was now looking to secure a top-four place and give themselves a chance of winning the grand final.
"Origin is over now, it's happened and it's time to focus on club footy," he said. "We've got a pretty good side here and we're in a good position to push into the finals. That's the main driver for me.
"We did a review of the game on the weekend and we're weren't doing some of the smaller things we were doing earlier in the year like kick pressure, putting pressure on the ball player and things like that. That's what we'll focus on."
Hunt admitted he and five-eighth Gareth Widdop had lacked patience against the Tigers and tried to produce try-scoring plays rather than build pressure.
"It was a game where we made a few errors, we weren't getting through our sets the way we like to and there were a few times we did try to roll the dice and come up with something when it wasn’t there," he said.
"It cost us a couple of times. There were a couple of kicks I wasn't happy with when we should have been building pressure and trying to win the game that way instead of chasing points. I wasn't happy with the game but I'll put it behind me and focus on the Cowboys.”
Hunt rejected suggestions his confidence was down after being relegated from Queensland halfback to the bench for Origin III at Suncorp Stadium.
However, he said adapting to the Telstra Premiership after being involved in the Origin campaign for the past six weeks had been difficult.
"It was pretty difficult. Coming back from camp, you do the captain's run and play again. You don't get much time to attack or work on the team you're playing against,” Hunt said.
"Your body is conditioned pretty well to handle these things now. It's mentally preparing yourself each week and a couple of times a week around Origin time, to get up and play well. It's a hard thing to do."