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Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston.

North Queensland's late comeback in a 26-20 loss to the Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night was the story of their season in one game, with good moments in attack and defence but not enough all at once.

The Cowboys mostly lost the game in an early second-half blitz, when first their own attack couldn't capitalise on field position then their defence crumbled twice with disappointingly soft tries conceded.

Some huge yardage sets, impactful offloads and nice pieces of execution helped them surge back into the game but again they couldn't crack the Roosters one final time at the end when they really needed it and in the end the comeback just highlighted how lacklustre their attack had been earlier in the game.

Captain Johnathan Thurston and coach Paul Green said the now 15th-placed Cowboys – who are just a handful of differential points ahead of the last-placed Eels – had rarely been blown away this year but had struggled to get both attack and defence working in the same match.

"Our ball control was pretty good tonight, we just probably defensively didn't control their power game very well for periods," Green said when reflecting on the six point defeat.

"[During our comeback] we found a pass, got a bit of an offload and played a bit of footy which you need to do against good defences but couldn't get it on in the middle of the game.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Cowboys - Round 21; 2018

"We couldn't get that style of footy on when we needed to... there's been plenty of games like that through the year, we can't put good defensive game with a good game in attack and that's how it's been all year."

Thurston said the team "showed a bit of character to get ourselves back in the game" after being at risk of a blowout at 26-8 midway through the second half.

"But like the rest of our season was a bit too late," he added.

"We lost some momentum straight after half time where they went bang-bang and we couldn't defend very well, especially off that scrum and Fergo (Blake Ferguson) scores in the corner which shouldn't happen.

Thurston was humbled to receive a tribute from the Roosters in honour of his last ever game at Allianz Stadium, where he has fought some memorable battles.

It was also his last time ever playing with or against long-time Maroons and Kangaroos teammate – and Roosters halfback – Cooper Cronk.

"It was just a nice tough from the Roosters and speaks volumes about their culture at the club, it was a real nice touch from the club," Thurston said.

"I remember playing with the Dogs here, a semi-final against Melbourne back in 04 (in which Thurston scored two tries off the bench to help his team into that year's grand final).

"We had some heartbreak here as well against Manly and the Roosters here in 2014. It's a ground that has a lot of history in it."

Of Cronk, Thurston added: "we played a lot of football alongside each other and against each other, some of my best memories have had Cooper alongside me in the Australian jersey and Maroons jersey.

"We've got a good friendship there, he reads the game very well and closed it out tonight."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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