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Thurston one step closer to Cowboys return in Darwin

In welcome news for Queensland, Johnathan Thurston is a step closer to making his return from a shoulder injury after flying out with North Queensland for Saturday night's NRL clash with Parramatta in Darwin.

Cowboys coach Paul Green said he would not have taken Thurston if he wasn't a chance of playing but was keen not to make potential replacement Kyle Laybutt sweat on his NRL debut.

Rookie five-eighth Laybutt will partner Michael Morgan in the North Queensland halves if Thurston fails to overcome the shoulder injury sustained in the May 5 trans-Tasman Test win.

Queensland are sweating on Thurston's fitness after he was forced to miss the Maroons' record 28-4 Origin I loss to NSW last week.

Coach Kevin Walters is still expected to select Thurston for June 21's State of Origin game two team on Monday even if the veteran half does not play in Darwin.

Green said he would not leave a decision on Thurston's fitness until the last minute to ensure a smoother preparation for 21-year-old debutant Laybutt.

The injury-plagued Thurston last played in the NRL two months ago.

"If he wasn't any chance of playing we probably wouldn't have taken him," Green told NRL.com.

"In saying that it doesn't mean he's going to play either.

"He got through our last training session pretty well, probably better than I expected.

"I'd like to decide before (the match eve captain's run) I think.

"If Kyle is going to play, to be fair it's his debut so he needs to have a really good prep."

Cowboys hooker Jake Granville believes Laybutt - in his second year in the senior training squad - would handle the step up to the NRL.

"He has been in our group for a while now, he does most of his training with us each week," he said.

"So he's been going great guns and he'll be ready should he play."

North Queensland will be out to avenge their round nine 26-6 home loss to Parramatta.

© AAP

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