The Warriors' NRL finals hopes were ruthlessly crushed 52-12 by a North Queensland team in which former bit-part player Michael Morgan was the driving force.

The 20-year-old has traditionally covered for Australian Test star Johnathan Thurston when the Cowboys captain is on representative duty, but the apprentice managed to shade the master in the nine-try thrashing on Saturday night.

Cowboys prop James Tamou (ankle) and interchange player Ray Thompson (shoulder) copped minor knocks in the first half and such was their team's dominance, neither was required to return.

Winger Ashley Graham returned to the top of the NRL tryscorer's list with a hat-trick in the nine-try belting.

For Brian McClennan's side, needing victory to remain in the finals race, it was a dismal performance which challenged the previous week's 45-4 loss to Cronulla as the club's darkest day of the year.

After leading two matches against Newcastle and Manly by 18 points only to lose, they have conceded 97 points in their past two matches.

The Aucklanders gave themselves the slightest hope of revival with second-gamer Carlos Tuimavave's 38th-minute try, but then returned to their tackle-shy ways after the break.

Centre Kane Linnett scythed his way through the defence in the 44th minute, Morgan laid the foundations for second rower Gavin Cooper to cross in the 47th and Morgan's pass put centre Brent Tate over in the 52nd.

Even at 40-6 up with two reserves on the bench, the Cowboys weren't finished shooting.

Hooker Aaron Payne scored from close range in the 62nd minute and then Ashley Graham completed his hat-trick in the 68th.

The Warriors lost lock Elijah Taylor before kick-off when he returned to New Zealand following the death of his father.

They managed a consolation try, via winger Manu Vatuvei, in the final minute.

The contest was as good as over when North Queensland scored four tries in the opening 19 minutes to lead 22-0.

While the performance was worthy of a top four side, wins at the weekend to Melbourne and Manly prevented the Cowboys returning to that company.

Warrior Kevin Locke left the field with a serious ankle injury during the first half.

NZ Newswire

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