NRL Finals: Warriors melt away

NRL Finals Week 2, 2007

COWBOYS 49 d WARRIORS 12

RUGBY league’s greatest player Johnathan Thurston faces the most anxious day of his career as he waits to find out if he will be rubbed out of Saturday’s NRL grand final qualifier with Manly.

The two-time Dally M medal winner was at his awesome best for the Cowboys in yesterday’s 49-12 flogging of the Warriors in Townsville.

But a controversial tackle on second-rower Wairangi Koopu could end the Cowboys dream run. Already on 93 demerit points, Thurston is almost sure to get a stint on the sideline.

Although he was not reported by referee Tony Archer, match reviewers will today decide if Thurston has a case to answer.

“I’ve never been in this position before,” a concerned Thurston said last night. I’ve just got to wait and see.

“I think when I drove into the tackle he went one way and I went the other way. That’s pretty much all I remember. There was no intention to cause him any injury.”

Thurston received a boost, however, when the victim of the tackle issued a public plea for the Cowboys superstar not to be suspended.

Koopu offered the jittery half his support, saying: “It was fine. He just twisted me around a little bit funny. He got under me pretty quickly.

“I was hoping to run the ball at him a bit more but we didn’t see too much of the ball. He’s a quality player, Johnathan Thurston.

“I don’t think he needs to be charged. He twisted me a funny way but there wasn’t too much malice in it and I know he didn’t mean it or do it on purpose. He does tackle quite low.

“I hope nothing comes of it. He needs to be on the field and leading his team.”

Approached at the Cowboys’ recovery session and told the comments, Thurston told The Daily Telegraph: “I’m grateful for him saying there was nothing in it and hopefully the judiciary see it the same. There was no intent to cause injury to him or anything.”

Thurston was charged with contrary conduct and striking last year but escaped suspension. Asked for his account of the incident, he gave an insight into a possible judiciary defence when he said: “When I drove into the tackle, he went one way and I went the other way. That’s pretty much all I remember.”

The affair detracted a little from an afternoon that coach Graham Murray described as “one of the best (performances) the Cowboys have ever put up”. In the final home appearances for Paul Bowman and Jason Smith, the Cowboys led just 18-12 at halftime against a Warriors outfit hanging in despite some poor execution in the sapping heat.

But in the second half, as Warriors boss Ivan Cleary was to later lament, “it became like a training run”. North Queensland finished with eight tries and Thurston was in the thick of the action, underscoring how much he would be missed against the Sea Eagles.

Ty Williams’ 38th-minute try, which edged the Cowboys in front for the final time, was entirely of Thurston’s making – even if it did end in a forward pass. Thurston made the break, Thurston took the first pass off the next ruck and Thurston threw the money ball.

Like fullback Matt Bowen, who added a field goal to his typic- ally sizzling try, he was given an early shower. He had set up several touchdowns and kicked seven goals.

Cleary started his media conference by telling reporters: “I don’t want to talk about today.”

He said: “We left our worst till last, unfortunately . . . we’re obviously not ready, not far off.

“It’s a good experience in a weird sort of way.”

Reserve Epalahame Lauaki was booked for a grapple tackle late in the game. The Cowboys expect to have prop Carl Webb back from a calf injury on Saturday.

Asked if he felt North Queensland could win the competition, Warriors prop Steve Price said: “They’ve got to go away. I don’t know if their record’s as good away as it is at home.”

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