ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA second-rower Matt Prior said his hit on Johnathan Thurston, making him the first player sent off this year, was an attempted shoulder charge.
''It wasn't a brain explosion, I just tried to do a shoulder charge,'' he said. ''I got him high, which I regret now. I obviously didn't mean to do that. I just feel real sorry for him, and I hope he is OK. I just tried to see if he was OK, but he's already ducked out.''
Prior was taunted by Cowboys players as he trudged to the dressing room after striking Thurston's head with his elbow in the 55th minute in the Cowboys' 24-point win at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Thurston was examined in the dressing room, returned to the bench but played no further part in the match.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry said the Queensland Origin star would be under close observation in the coming days but at this stage would not undergo X-rays. Dragons coach Steve Price was at a loss to explain the ugly incident. "It's disappointing, it's not in Matty Prior's make-up," Price said. "That's not his go, it was a very unfortunate incident. He's very apologetic in the dressing room.''
Henry and Cowboys prop Matt Scott said Prior was welcome in the Cowboys sheds, and his apology would be accepted. "It stays out on the field," said Scott, who made a successful pre-Origin return from a footy injury. "We don't hold grudges, and I'm sure JT doesn't either."
Henry said Thurston was "OK in the sheds. He's quite lucid, he's sending text messages. We're hopeful he isn't injured. We'll monitor things, he might be off training for a couple of days. I've seen [the incident] once, and it was high. Sometimes they're on report. Sometimes … to say it warrants a send-off, I'd probably say yes. I'd expect one of my players would be sent off if that happened. How they deal with it … he was sinking, he was dipping a bit, Jonno, when that was happening."
Captain Ben Hornby said the incident was "not good but the judiciary's going to do what they're going to do". Until the hit - which could have turned things ugly as North Queensland players initially sought retribution after watching the replay on big screen - this was a night on which Queensland's impressive interstate depth was showcased and NSW's shaky stocks were highlighted. Cowboys centre Brent Tate - who scored a contentious 33rd-minute try - and fullback Matt Bowen were outstanding and Scott's comeback was successful despite some second-half soreness. By comparison, the likes of Brett Morris, Jamie Soward, Michael Weyman and Ben Creagh did little to enhance their Blues prospects.
Scott said of his return: "It [the foot] was a bit sore in the second half. I just rolled over on it a little bit. I think, from talking to guys with similar injuries, it's going to be sore for a while."
NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (M Bowen K Linnett T Sims B Tate R Thompson tries J Thurston 3 M Bowen 2 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 6 (B Morris try J Soward goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Gavin Badger. Crowd: 15,006.