North Queensland will desperately miss Johnathan Thurston against St George Illawarra, but it's another player with the initials "JT" that the table-topping Dragons will be worried about.

The Cowboys, hopeful Thurston could return as soon as next week from a calf strain, have won just three of their past 13 matches without their captain, leading into Saturday night's clash at WIN Stadium.

But little of that streak takes into account the devastating form of NZ Kiwis forward Jason Taumalolo.

Taumalolo has recorded the most devastating opening to a season this century. Since Fox Sports Stats began in 2000, he is the first player to record more than 1000m in his first four games of the season, having been suspended in rounds three and four.

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He is also only the third forward to record four consecutive games of more than 200 running metres in each match in that period, a feat only achieved by Paul Gallen in 2012 and Steve Price in 2007.

To put Taumalolo's performances in perspective, then-Sydney Roosters fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck broke the NRL's record for most running metres in a season in 2015 with an average of 217m per match.

Taumalolo is already averaging 250m this season - and he's doing it without the added advantage of kick returns and 80-minute games.

"Jason is a strong ball-runner," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

But the answer to limiting Taumalolo, according to McGregor, is easy.

"Tackle him," he said.

McGregor though, is refusing to believe beating the Cowboys without Thurston will be that simple. The Cowboys are also without Kangaroos forward Matthew Scott for the rest of the season and hooker Jake Granville for at least the next month, with a broken leg.

Former Melbourne playmaker Ben Hampton shifts from No 9 to replace Thurston, while bench back-rower Blake Leary slots into dummy-half.

"Any team that is without star players, they lift," McGregor said. "It can't be one, it's got to be collectively.

"Their coach will expect a little bit more of everyone. Not just one or two.

"They've still got some quality players in their footy team."

-AAP