Walters says JT will not miss Origin
COWBOYS champion Johnathan Thurston reportedly faces around a month on the sidelines with a torn calf as the club's injury crisis worsens, with Kane Linnett the latest backline star to join their bulging casualty ward.
Linnett is in doubt for Saturday's clash with the Dragons in Wollongong after injuring his leg in the weekend's 26-16 home loss to Wests Tigers.
It means the Cowboys will face the top-of-the-table Dragons without three members of their first-choice spine in Thurston, Jake Granville and Lachlan Coote, and possibly five members of their best backline.
Winger Antonio Winterstein (arm) is the only player on the injured list with a strong chance of returning this week.
Throw in Matt Scott's season-ending knee injury, Justin O'Neill's hamstring and setbacks to fringe players like Shaun Fensom, Josh Chudleigh and Ray Thompson, and their depth is being sorely tested.
The Cowboys have enjoyed a charmed run with few injuries the past two seasons, but the current glut has put their chances of racking up as many wins as possible before the Origin period in jeopardy.
Thurston has had scans on his injury but the Cowboys have stated they won't issue any news on his condition until Tuesday's team announcement.
The Cowboys have won just 13 of 45 games without their halfback, and it could force them to hand rookie Kyle Laybutt an NRL debut.
Laybutt hasn't played any football since injuring his new in the Queensland Cup six weeks ago.
But he is a solid organiser and has a great kicking game, something the Cowboys are in desperate need of without Thurston and fullback Coote.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters told Big Sports Breakfast yesterday he doesn't think Thurston is in any danger of missing the series opener in Brisbane on March 31.
However he looks unlikely to be fit for Australia's clash with New Zealand in Canberra on May 5.
With fellow co-captain Scott also out, it is expected Gavin Cooper will skipper the side in Wollongong.
"I believe he's going to be OK. He'll miss a few weeks but not anywhere near what everyone was thinking when they saw him limp off," Walters said.
"He's one of the most important players for Origin and also the Cowboys, too. They're in a bit of a rut at the moment and certainly need their leader.
"They're a bit shaky and that's probably because of a few injuries and they lost (James) Tamou (to Penrith) in the middle and Matt Scott.
"They're just missing a bit in the middle but once they get their players back they'll be there at the end, I have no doubt about that."
Cowboys back rower Ethan Lowe backed whoever replaces four-time Dally M medallist Thurston to play their role.
"Whoever steps into the role we know they're going to do it well," Lowe said.
"Obviously he won't be able to do some of the freaky stuff JT does but we know (his replacement will) do a solid job."
Cowboys coach Paul Green said they won't use injuries as an excuse against the red hot Dragons.
"We've been well below the average for probably three years now, eventually you're going to go back to the average," Green said.
"This is our tough period, they happen every year at different stages for different reasons.
"Ours has come early but we're not using it as an excuse either."