JOHNATHAN Thurston could be back on the football field within two weeks after scans Monday allayed fears that the Cowboys superstar is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
It is understood the playmaking sensation is looking at just two weeks out of the game, after he suffered a small tear in his calf in Saturday's loss to the Tigers.
The worst-case scenario for Thurston is a three-week recovery.
The news is not just a massive boost for the veteran and his chances of playing for Australia in the May 5 Test against New Zealand, but also for the injury-ravaged Cowboys.
Thurston looked worse for wear on Saturday night when he had to be assisted from the field, but the news is much better than most imagined.
However, while the Cowboys will be grateful to lose him for only two or three games, it does still set the side up for a tough run into the taxing Origin period.
North Queensland have won just 29% of their matches without Thurston since he joined the club in 2005 and, in the last five years, they have only won on three occasions from 13 games without their star player.
Former Cowboy Brent Tate said while the lead up to the Origin period is always a critical time, it is important for the team to not panic about their current situation, with the likes of Lachlan Coote, Justin O'Neill, Matt Scott, Jake Granville and Antonio Winterstein also sidelined.
"There's a reason why those stats are what they are,” Tate said.
"We all see each week what a bearing (Thurston) has on games. Those who have to take over, they shouldn't try to be like a JT.
"It's a huge loss but from the Cowboys' point of view they have to look at it as an opportunity for some of these young guys to really stand up.
"It's going to be critical for us. They can't be worried about Origin or thinking about that, just worried about what's happening this week.”
Coach Paul Green is set to name a replacement today for the Cowboys' clash with the Dragons on Saturday.
His decision will hinge on the availability of Coote (calf), but if he is not fit then Townville half Kyle Laybutt is the most likely replacement.
It will be a risk given Laybutt has played just five minutes of football this season after injuring himself in Round 1.
Tate said he is not sure whether Laybutt will be match fit but admitted that unless Coote is ready, the 21-year-old is the best option alongside forward John Asiata.
Asiata played in the halves as a junior and has filled in for Michael Morgan in the past when the five-eighth was injured in a match.
Thurston himself has also previously praised Asiata's playmaking skills.
In other injury news for the club, Kane Linnett is also in doubt for the clash with the Dragons after injuring his leg in the weekend's 26-16 loss to the Tigers.