NORTH Queensland will have to make the finals series this season without its best player following the news Johnathan Thurston will take longer than expected to recover from his knee injury. The Cowboys five-eighth was sidelined when he tore the medial ligament in his right knee against Brisbane two weeks ago, but the club had hoped he would be fit to return against New Zealand Warriors in Auckland on Saturday week. However, Cowboys football manager Kelly Egan said yesterday a worst-case scenario could see Thurston sidelined until the second week of the finals series. "It's grade-three medial ligament damage and it could be five to seven weeks before Johnathan is right to come back," Egan said yesterday. "He's in Brisbane attending a family funeral ... and undergoing intensive physiotherapy down there at the present time." The injury setback is a huge blow for the Townsville-based club given it is clinging to seventh spot on the ladder - one of 11 teams with a mathematical chance of joining Melbourne and the Bulldogs in the finals next month.