Johnathan Thurston is still recovering from injury. (AAP Image/David Rowland)
Johnathan Thurston is still recovering from injury. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

Durkin: Never call a Cowboy to a gunfight

As a child of the '50s, and a country boy to boot, my familiarisation with tales of agitated cowboys was almost as important as maths and English.

And my sometimes fading memory tells me fictitious boyhood heroes such as Wyatt Earp and the Lone Ranger always won their battles. They were feared by their opponents, never backed down from a fight and accepted any challenge.

Sounds like the great Johnathan Thurston, doesn't it?

In rugby league terms, JT is Wyatt Earp and the Lone Ranger rolled into one. But the major difference is that this Cowboy is no fictitious character. He is the greatest Cowboy of them all.

What I gleaned from those cowboy tales as a kid was that whoever challenged these heroes, always lost. It was the "don't poke the bear" analogy, which I learned later in life.

Respected Fox commentator and former international halfback Greg Alexander certainly poked the bear last weekend when he suggested the Cowboys skipper - in his swansong year - might have played a season too long. Alexander suggested JT was a yard off the pace, hit the ground too often and was easier to tackle.

Sadly, he is more than likely correct in his assessment. Those who have admired Thurston for the majority of his 17 seasons can see he is well below his best, as are the Cowboys.

And while Thurston arced up when told of the comment, his coach Paul Green grinned and challenged JT to respond "the way Johnno usually responds".

He knew the bear had been poked and that the Cowboy who never backs down from a fight had been provoked by a former great. In fact, such was the timing of the Alexander observation that conspiracy theorists could be excused for thinking it was Green who planted the seed.

This is the same Cowboys side that played last year's grand final despite being without Thurston from round 16.

They started this season as premiership favourites in the minds of many, yet after five rounds are 14th on the ladder.

It is not alarm time just yet, because fancied outfits such as the Storm, Broncos, Eels and Sharks are also struggling. But the Cowboys need to find their mojo soon and tomorrow night against the besieged Bulldogs is a perfect platform.

In a pre-season preview, I wrote that the hurdle for the star-studded Cowboys would be putting the cart before the horse, with the mindset of winning the premiership for Thurston in his final year. Their stuttering, disjointed start to the season may just be a product of that most fervent goal.

But while Thurston may be a champion Cowboy, Green is just as gifted in his role as coach. And he will know that tomorrow night, against tough Kiwi Kieran Foran, is the textbook scene setter for the struggling Cowboy to draw on his big guns.

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