Thurston will be Cowboys pivot - Murray

North Queensland Cowboys coach Graham Murray expects young recruit Johnathan Thurston to become a pivotal player at the NRL club this year.

Thurston has joined North Queensland after exploding onto the scene with the Bulldogs last season, culminating in a grand final triumph.

The Queenslanders' come from behind, late season finishing run that took them all the way to last year's preliminary final largely depended on its halves, but with the departure of playmaker Nathan Fein to the New Zealand Warriors, Thurston will be required to bolster that area in the coming season.

Five-eighth Thurston, 21, struggled for a regular starting spot last season, but Murray said he will be expected to play a much bigger role for his new club.

"I think being alongside guys like Brent Sherwin and Braith Anasta offers you a fair amount of protection, but yeah, I think it's fair to say he'll be one of our main men," Murray said.

Murray admitted Fein would be a big loss, but rejected suggestions his team would be caught short in the halves' department this year.

"Nathan was playing his best footy at the back end of the year, as was the team," Murray said.

"But having said that, we've got guys like Brent McConnell, Keiran Kerr and Chris Sheppard, who had the (halfback) job before Nathan took it off him in the middle of the season.

"So as much as we'll miss Nathan, I think we're looking pretty good in the halves."

He said Thurston and fellow new signings, ex-Brisbane prop Carl Webb and former Souths second-rower Justin Smith, have fitted in well in Townsville.

"They tell me that they love it here, with the variety of training we have," Murray said.

"It might take them a couple of trials to fit into our style of play, but that's OK."

The Cowboys became rugby league's feel-good story of the year last season with their historic charge into the finals.

Shock victories over eventual premiers the Bulldogs and Brisbane had the club one game away from the grand final, before the run was ended by the Sydney Roosters.

As a result, there are more expectations on the Cowboys this year, something Murray said is a mixed blessing.

"There are some things nice about it and some not so nice," Murray said.

"It will add a bit of pressure but last year everyone got excited about the style of football we play.

"We expect to pick up and run with that this year but we're quite aware that if we don't, we won't get the results."