PEERLESS Queensland and Australian playmaker Johnathan Thurston warmed up for the upcoming State of Origin series by inspiring North Queensland to a 32-12 victory over the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium tonight.
Thurston set up four of the Cowboys' five tries and kicked six goals from as many attempts to hand the struggling Knights a second straight loss.
Tries by centre Junior Sa'u in the ninth minute and stand-in skipper Chris Houston in the 39th allowed the Knights to head to the sheds locked at 12-12 but the visitors racked up 20 unanswered points after the break.
Cowboys winger Ashley Graham crossed for two tries and halves Ray Thompson and Michael Morgan and back-rower Gavin Cooper scored one each.
It was Newcastle's sixth loss from 10 games this season, leaving the Knights in 12th position heading into a bye next weekend, but coach Wayne Bennett said there were enough encouraging signs to suggest better times ahead.
Knights fullback Darius Boyd, who has struggled to find his feet since arriving in Newcastle, had easily his best game in blue and red making nine tackle breaks, throwing the final pass for Sa'u's try, and running 16 times for 167 metres.
"Tonight was a move forward, I thought, from where we've been a little bit," Bennett said.
"There were lots of good things to like about our performance tonight."
Five-eighth Jarrod Mullen will have scans on his ribs on Monday after being injured in a late tackle by Cooper in the 51st minute.
Former Cowboys, Roosters and Bulldogs forward Willie Mason made his first start since joining the Knights three weeks ago, and hooker Chris Adams made his NRL debut off the bench.
NRL Round 10
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 32 (A Graham 2, R Thompson, M Morgan, G Cooper tries; J Thurston 6 goals) NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 12 (J Sa'u, C Houston tries; T Roberts 2 goals) at Hunter Stadium.
Referees Matt Cecchin, Gavin Morris