Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston receives a guard of honour from the Roosters.

The Roosters presented a touching tribute to retiring Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston in his last ever game at Allianz Stadium, after the star halfback almost guided his team to an unlikely comeback win on Saturday night.

Roosters players congratulated Thurston, who was presented with commemorative cuff-links and given a guard of honour at fulltime.

Boyd Cordner said he will miss playing alongside his close mate and Kangaroos teammate while coach Trent Robinson compared Thurston to rugby league Immortal and Roosters legend Artie Beetson.

"We wanted to honour him as a person, we wanted to beat him in the game but wanted to honour the legacy he left," said Robinson, describing Thurston as a "once in a generation" player.

"JT left a similar legacy to Artie Beetson and I think that's the biggest rap I can give him and didn't want to let that pass."

Beetson was the first Indigenous player to captain Australia in any sport and Robinson said Thurston will leave a similarly memorable legacy.

Cordner described it as a "privilege and an honour" to have played with and against Thurston.

"I can remember when I was 21 years old I got a Kangaroos jumper to go to England and play in the World Cup, I was pretty shy kid and a bit star struck and he was probably the first bloke who came up and made me feel welcome and went out of his way, I'm so glad to call him a mate now," Cordner said.

"I'll miss those times now being able to go into camp with him and play outside him, he's made me a better player.

"What he's done for the game of the field, not many players have as much of an impact as he does to the community, not only the rugby league community, the Indigenous community, people who don't watch rugby league know who he is.

"It takes a special kind of person to have that kind of effect and impact on a country."

Of the game, Robinson was disappointed with the second-half fade-out to let their opposition back into it and thought they were guilty of trying to win it too quickly rather than clocking off in the 26-20 victory.

''Nervous is not the right word but obviously what we did to them for most of the game, especially heading towards half-time and out of half-time they started doing to us for about 10 minutes there and it was game on," he said.

"It wasn't clocking off, I thought we wanted to go to 32 [points] really quickly than hold on to what we were doing so went for some higher risk stuff that didn't come off. I thought we were in a bit of a rush."

He was also reasonably happy with the first of the team's likely four games without five-eighth Luke Keary.

"We were good enough to score 26 points without Luke, between Boyd, Latrell [Mitchell] and Matto (Ryan Matterson) with Toops (Daniel Tupou) shared the workload," he said.

"It wasn't a bad start, but it will be a couple more weeks without him."