The Canberra Raiders recorded their third straight NRL win over North Queensland on Saturday night and the explanation, if you believe coach Ricky Stuart, is simple.
"One big reason, Johnathan Thurston," Stuart told AAP.
"Any football team that loses JT is going to have a hole that they cannot fill."
The hosts were horrible, particularly the halves pairing Michael Morgan and Jake Clifford, who fumbled their way through North Queensland's 12-30 defeat to seal a 1-3 start to life without retired legend Thurston.
Morgan and 21-year-old Clifford's combination is only two matches old but after consecutive heavy defeats losses coach Paul Green's patience is being tested.
The pair committed three errors each.
"Now's not really the time to be talking about positions," Green said, after the pair produced three errors apiece.
"But I will say you can't keep throwing up performances like that and expect to keep your spot."
It was left to Green's counterpart Stuart to go into bat for Clifford.
"Any young player coming into that position, filling the boots of Johnathan Thurston, has a lot of expectation on him he just needs time, he is a very good player," he said.
Considered one of the finest halfbacks to grace the code, Stuart said the true impact of Thurston's retirement runs deeper than his absence on the field.
"He is a massive man to fill, you have to give this mob time. I know they played without him (in 2017) but he was always around," he said.
"They have had to change their structure and the way they play.
"Those two will improve and do the job for the club, I wouldn't be bashing them too much."
Morgan and Clifford have little time to regroup with an ominous clash with unbeaten Melbourne looming in Townsville on Friday.
Australian Associated Press