JT: Cowboys are ready to pack a punch
COWBOYS legend Johnathan Thurston has backed North Queensland's forward pack to wreak havoc when the club begins its hunt for finals football in little over a month's time.
Thurston, who retired at the end of the 2018 season, is impressed by North Queensland's beefed-up pack, which was strengthened by the off-season recruitment of Josh McGuire.
The Test and State of Origin lock will bolster a Cowboys pack already featuring internationals Matt Scott, who had successful post-season neck surgery and Jordan McLean, who showed strong form in North Queensland's final six games of 2018 after missing 14 matches through injury.
Jason Taumalolo has spoken of his desire to take his off-loading game to the next level, and Maroons forwards Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess have impressed Cowboys coaching staff throughout off-season training.
It's with this quality upfront that has Thurston jumping out of his skin when it comes to North Queensland's pack.
"If I was Michael Morgan I'd be rubbing my hands together with the pack that he's got there," he said.
"I'm really excited for the team; Josh McGuire's been a great addition for us.
"Last year was a really good learning curve for the boys and I'm sure they were all disappointed with the way it finished.
"But from what I've been hearing they've been training the house down and they just want to rip into the footy.
"Certainly getting Benny Barba back from overseas ... from what I'm hearing he's training the house down and they're starting form some great combinations out there."
Thurston laughed off suggestions he hold second thoughts about retirement, having called time on his 323-game NRL career to nationwide fanfare at the end of last season.
"There's been a couple of times I've felt like it (returning to NRL), but it's been extremely hot up here the last few months," he said.
"So every time I think 'I could go again' I just think about how hot is, and that shuts down my thoughts pretty quickly."
Taumalolo, who was a joint winner of the Dally Medal in 2016, wants to bolster his team's go-forward by stepping up his off-loading game.
The Tonga international made a club-best 23 effective offloads in 2018, but was well outside the NRL's top 10.
"I can always get better. I am still working on the offloading side of my game and trying to create some second phase. That is something we have really lacked over the last few years in our team," Taumalolo said.
"Having said that, we now have Josh McGuire there and he is really good at offloading. With Jordan McLean there, that is going to make it a bit easier to play the sort of footy we want to play
"So probably just in the offloading department and trying to stay consistent are what I will focus on.
"You can't afford to drop off. Even though we have a great forward pack I'd still like to take myself to the next level."