JOHNATHON Thurston's frustrations in his farewell season continued as his first NRL club played party poopers up north.
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Kiama products Josh and Brett Morris and their Canterbury side were too good for Thurston and his North Queensland mates as they ran out convincing 27-10 victors on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs played with plenty of energy and discipline to give Dean Pay his second career win as head coach.
As Pay said afterwards: "I thought we put in a performance out there tonight that we're capable of, and we haven't done that yet this year, so it was pleasing.
"We've been copping a little bit of criticism with the way we're playing, but internally we were waiting for everything to click, and it did.
"That's the way we know we can play; we need to make sure we're consistent with those performances.''
While Canterbury will take plenty of confidence heading into next Thursday's clash against the Sydney Roosters, Thurston's last hurrah is starting to look like it might not go to script after all.
The team predicted by plenty to take out the NRL title in Thurston's final season have now registered just one win in six rounds.
The biggest concern is they do not look like improving, and how flustered Thurston appears during games.
Thurston said it was up to the Cowboys to now dig themselves out of this rut, and they would.
"We've got a group working extremely hard to turn it around, it will test our leadership as a playing group and club, but I've got the belief between these four walls we can get ourselves out of this.''
Coach Paul Green added: "We've been down some dry gullies before, and we'll fight our way out.''
There were plenty of loose passes and not a lot of creativity in attack for the Cowboys.
One set of six in the first half was truly awful and finished with a Michael Morgan kick sailing more than 20m on to one of those grassy hills behind the posts.
While the Cowboys have plenty to work on ahead of their clash against the Gold Coast next Saturday, the Dogs will be pleased with their best performance of the season.
They will back themselves against the Chooks, especially with how poor the Bondi forwards have been.
If Aaron Woods, Dave Klemmer and Adam Elliott can dish up a similar effort against the Roosters, they will have a field day up the middle.
The Dogs went ahead through a couple of penalty goals early on, then Marcelo Montoya crossed for the first try after a Kieran Foran chip was assisted by a Thurston 'falcon'.
The ball bounced of Thurston's head, and was re-gathered by Josh Jackson, who spread the ball quickly through Will Hopoate to Montoya.
The Dogs right edge combined well again and raced up field before another penalty put Canterbury ahead 12-nil.
North Queensland struggled for possession, and even when they did have the ball never looked like threatening the try line.
Just when Jason Taumalolo thought he had done the unthinkable and busted past three defenders to score next to the posts – replays showed he dropped the ball – Canterbury hit back a couple of minutes later with a soft try for Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Foran sent a scare through the camp when he appeared to pick up a knee injury trying to collect one of his own bombs that was allowed to bounce. But the tough-as-nails halfback marched on and was solid in attack and defence.
The Cowboys came out after the break meaning business, but it lasted what felt like a couple of minutes before they reverted to their sloppy general play.
Thurston was lucky he was not pinged for obstructing Jackson as he motored after a Jeremy Marshall-King grubber, while Gavin Cooper's penalty for obstruction allowed the visitors to attack and eventually go further in front via Elliott.
Jackson was aware the Cowboys had come under fire, but they were never going to take them lightly.
"I thought they'd be wanting to bounce back after the loss last week, and there's been a fair bit of stuff in the media about a few blokes in their team ... I was expecting a pretty tough game,'' Jackson said.
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