Flu played its part in the Cowboys’ last-gasp NRL win over Cronulla but Johnathan Thurston admits part of his team’s problem was mental.

Captain Johnathan Thurston says North Queensland’s great escape against NRL wooden spooners Cronulla was a wake up call they needed.

It took a Thurstson field goal in extra time to put away a decimated but gallant Sharks outfit 20-19 in Townsville on Monday night.

The last-gasp win assured the Cowboys of a finals spot and Thurston reckoned it was a timely warning.

A flu that ravaged the Cowboys camp in the lead up played its part but Thurston admitted part of his team’s problem was mental.

Finals intensity will come a week early for North Queensland as they face minor premiership hopefuls Manly in the last round on Sunday night, with the possibility of a top four finish if they win.

“We’re coming up against one of the premiership heavyweights so we need to be mentally ready,” said Thurston.

“If we turn up like we did (against the Sharks) then it’s going to be a tough night at the office for us.

“We just need to learn from that.”

Fortunate or not, the Cowboys’ win capped a huge effort after for the team who were languishing in 12th place on the ladder after round 18.

They have won six of their last seven matches with their only loss a 23-22 heartbreaker against the Panthers in round 23.

And they can now finish anywhere from fourth to seventh, depending on other results.

If North Queensland can defeat Manly and the Warriors can upset Penrith in the final match of the round, the Cowboys will finish in the top four.

Coach Paul Green said the belief was always there, even when the knives were out for the club as it languished near the bottom of the ladder.

“There was plenty of belief,” he said.

“I said from the start it was going to take a while.

“If people expected it all to happen for us straight away, they were kidding themselves.

“I’ve been saying all year, stick with us, we’ll get it right eventually.

“We’ve fought hard to get to where we are at the moment and we’re not done yet.

“This was an invaluable lesson for us.”