North Queensland captain and playmaker Johnathan Thurston says it’s now or never for the Cowboys as they walk the NRL finals tightrope.

Superstar playmaker Johnathan Thurston has a blunt message to his Cowboys teammates: your time starts now.

After a diabolical campaign on the road in 2014, the Cowboys enter Friday night’s NRL clash with bottom-placed Cronulla once again walking the finals tightrope.

Widely considered title contenders pre-season, the Cowboys have suffered eight losses from as many starts away from home to be precariously positioned in 12th spot with eight rounds remaining.

They resume after enjoying a bye last week in desperate need of their first win in Sydney in almost a year.

“I can’t sugarcoat it: our away record’s not great, and the only people who can change that is the 17 that play on the night,” Thurston said on Thursday.

“It’s coming towards the back end of the season now, so we need to kick-start it soon.

“We’ve had a really good home record, which we want to keep intact towards the back end of the year.

“We just need to find a couple of wins away from home and hopefully scrape into the eight.”

The Cowboys have a habit of firing up late in seasons.

They reeled off six straight wins last year to squeeze into the playoffs in eighth spot.

“We’d prefer not to be in that position but, if we keep playing the way we are, that’s when the pressure starts mounting,” Thurston said.

“If we can get a couple of away wins over the next month or so, hopefully we can make a run towards the finals.

“We had a really good win up against the Bunnies a couple of weeks ago, but the challenge now for us now is to back that up against a Sharkies side that are fighting for their season.”

Kicking off the league’s Rise For Alex round, Thurston will swap his No.7 jersey for North Queensland’s No.16 jumper at Remondis Stadium in support of injured Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon.

The reigning world player of the year considered it a nice gesture and hopes the jumper will fetch a good price when the Knights auction it off on their website.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever worn 16 so it’s a special jersey and a special round,” Thurston said.

“I’ve only said hello to him a couple of times. I don’t know him personally but he’s an inspiration to people with those (spinal) injuries.

“Hopefully in the next year or two, he’ll be walking.”

The Sharks are expected to be without Paul Gallen, who suffered a biceps injury in Sunday’s loss to Newcastle, but Thurston said the Cowboys were preparing for the NSW State of Origin captain to play.