North Queensland coach Paul Green is keeping trump card Johnathan Thurston close to his chest ahead of Saturday’s NRL clash with Melbourne.
The Cowboys captain completed training on Friday to increase hope he can shake off a hamstring injury and line up against the Storm for the premiers.
Thurston failed to finish last weekend’s comprehensive 36-0 win over Canterbury but nine-day turnaround has the champion halfback poised to make an unexpected return.
Green, though, was giving nothing away when pressed about Thurston’s availability.
“We’re not going to take any unnecessary risks,” he said.
“We’ll see how he pulls up tomorrow. Guy like him, we’ll give him as long as possible but if he doesn’t play, we’re very happy with the prep we’ve had.”
Green says he’ll make the final call on Thurston’s availability and the club’s pending finals campaign will be a factor in the decision.
“Big games like us against Melbourne, they’re the games players want to play in,” he said.
“Often you’ve got to protect the players from themselves, they always want to play.”
In Thurston’s absence, the Cowboys have named Ray Thompson to play alongside Queensland State of Origin representative Michael Morgan.
The Storm have named an unchanged line-up from the team that defeated the Sydney Roosters 26-10 to keep the pressure on table-toppers Cronulla.
Melbourne defeated the Cowboys earlier in the year by a single point at Suncorp Stadium, and Green admits his team has been planning revenge for some time.
“The boys have probably had one eye on this contest for a while now so we’re really excited about the challenge,” he said.
“Them and Cronulla are obviously the two form teams in the competition at the moment.
“The players recognise who their opposition are and they know it’s probably a little bigger game than normal.”
COWBOYS v STORM – Key match stats
* North Queensland are seeking a club-record 12th straight win at home
* Melbourne have the best defensive record in the NRL and are yet to concede 20 points or more in a match
* North Queensland have won just 13 of 44 matches without Johnathan Thurston since 2005