Cronulla captain Wade Graham believes with Johnathan Thurston on song North Queensland can make a late run to the NRL finals – Cowboys style.

Now that he’s blown off the hot steam, Cronulla captain Wade Graham is tipping North Queensland to make a late title charge – Cowboys style.

Traditionally slow starters to NRL seasons, the Cowboys have a history of hitting their straps in the countdown to the finals and reeled off six straight sudden-death wins last year to scrape into the playoffs.

With another brutal State of Origin campaign behind him, Thurston once again delivered in his team’s time of need with a 20-point man-of-the-match display in North Queensland’s 36-18 victory over the Sharks on Friday night.

The win lifted the Cowboys into the top eight and, after unloading on the match officials after a game blighted by 19 penalties and numerous other stoppages, Graham turned his attention to the Cowboys.

“Any team with JT in it can make a run,” he said after watching Thurston put the Sharks to the sword with a two-try, six-goal masterclass at Remondis Stadium.

“He’s a world-class player and he steers them around well.

“They’ve still got Matty Scott to come back – he’s a big leader for them – and Jimmy (Tamou) is going well too so they can definitely make a run.

“Any team, if they get a run, can threaten in this comp. That’s how close it is.”

Graham’s endorsement of the Cowboys came after he branded the league’s referees this season as bad as the hapless Sharks and said “the game deserves better”.

“There’s no shying away from the fact that we’re struggling as a team – we’ve had not the best season – but, mate, the men in the middle are on par with us,” he said.

“The ruck was all over the shop. It was very frustrating … it happens in every game.”

His side’s finals fate back in their own hands following a long overdue first road win of the season, the Cowboys play away again next week against Canterbury but finish with four games out of their last five in Townsville.

“It’s important for us to play well, play consistently,” said Cowboys coach Paul Green.

“We’ve got Origin out of the way now. We’ve got everyone back on deck and it’s about getting back to playing earlier in the year and finishing the year off well.”

Thurston said: “The challenge for us now is to back it up next week”.

The Sharks, though, remain anchored to the bottom of the ladder with just four wins all year.

But caretaker coach James Shepherd insists he won’t be jumping ship like Peter Sharp did three weeks ago.

“I just go about my business, doing my job, until he bosses, the board tell me what next,” Shepherd said.

“So I’m happy to keep doing it. I’ll just knuckle down and do a review of this game. What happens on Monday is out of my control.”