SUPERSTAR halfback Johnathan Thurston could be set for a shock return from a shoulder injury when the Cowboys take on reigning premiers Cronulla tomorrow night.
Thurston travelled with the team to Sydney yesterday and has been named in North Queensland's 21-man squad to face the Sharks, coming on to the extended bench in place of utility Blake Leary.
The 34-year-old injured his shoulder playing for Australia in the Anzac Test a fortnight ago and has not played for the Cowboys since round six when he suffered a minor calf tear.
Thurston was expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks - also putting him at risk of missing Queensland's State of Origin opener - but the Cowboys have refused to put a time frame on his recovery, which has only fuelled speculation that he could be in line for an early return.
Coach Paul Green was coy when asked about Thurston's chances of playing tomorrow night - noting he also has sponsorship commitments in Sydney - but Green admitted his star halfback was making good progress.
"He has to go down and do a promo for Toyota so that's probably the main reason why he's travelling, but he's improving," Green said.
"Whether or not he improves enough to play this weekend, we'll wait and see.
"I was always pretty vague about a time frame for a reason, because it's one of those injuries that when his strength comes back and the shoulder's stable he'll be able to play.
"If his strength's not in the shoulder, you take a massive risk that he'll (injure it) properly and if he does that then his season's finished. That's not worth the risk at this stage.
"He hasn't really trained with the team as such this week ... but basically he just needs to get his strength back in the shoulder."
While Thurston is an outside chance of taking the field, Green was confident five-eighth Michael Morgan was ready to inspire the Cowboys to another sensational win against the Sharks.
Morgan scored a try and had a hand in four others in last weekend's 30-14 triumph over the Bulldogs and Green said it was crucial the Cowboys continue to build on that performance.
"I thought Morgo was terrific for us. He stepped up and took control when he had to, his kicking game was excellent, and I'm actually looking for him to go up a gear again," Green said.
"It wasn't by any means our best performance against the Bulldogs. It was a really good performance and we should get a lot of confidence out of it, but we can build on that and we need to this week against the Sharks.
"I think if we can improve in a couple of little areas, there's no reason why we can't do the job again."
Hooker Jake Granville has also been under an injury cloud after suffering a blow to his recently healed broken leg against the Bulldogs, but Green was quick to allay any concerns about his fitness.
"He's sore, but he hasn't re-injured it or made it any worse," Green said.
"As you can imagine, if you break a bone and you get a whack straight on then it's going to hurt, but I'm pretty confident he'll be right to play."
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