Absent ... Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Bowen will not attend the Dally M Awards. Photo: Getty Images
NORTH QUEENSLAND coach Neil Henry has blamed the NRL's refusal to schedule the Cowboys' last match of the regular season at home for the absence of star players Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen from tomorrow night's Dally M Awards.
Thurston will remain in Sydney to attend today's captains' call at Allianz Stadium before flying to Townsville on a later flight than his teammates but the Test five-eighth won't return for the player of the year awards.
Angered by what he said was ill-informed criticism from News Ltd, which runs the Dally M Awards, Henry revealed the Cowboys had unsuccessfully lobbied the NRL for the past two years to have their final match played at home so the players could come to Sydney.
''Last year, we did the right thing and came and brought the whole team down early, which is not preferred, and we didn't get a result,'' Henry said.
''We've asked the NRL for a home game to finish the season for the last two years to make it easier for us to attend, but that has not happened. I feel sorry for the players but they agreed it would disrupt our preparations making three long flights in a short period of time.''
After winning their past four matches, Thurston said the Cowboys were better positioned to challenge for the premiership than last season. ''This is the best we have pulled up as a club after an Origin series and we had a fair representation through that series,'' Thurston said.
With the fifth-placed Cowboys drawn to host the eighth-placed Broncos, Thurston said the sudden-death match would be like a Queensland grand final. ''I am looking forward to it. You set your goals at the start of the season to play semi-final football and we have achieved that. It will be a packed house and we can't wait.''
Back-rower Gavin Cooper injured his shoulder in yesterday's win over Cronulla and is in doubt for the clash with the Broncos on Saturday night.