They may have made great strides to reach their first NRL grand final in 10 years but Brisbane great Steve Renouf says North Queensland are still a one-man team.
Renouf said the Cowboys should be written off in Sunday’s season decider against Brisbane in Sydney if Thurston can’t shake off groin and calf niggles that have plagued the halfback for the past month.
For the record, the Cowboys were breathing a sigh of relief ahead of their first grand final since their maiden 2005 appearance after co-captain Thurston ran for the first time this week at training on Friday.
Four-time Dally M Medallist Thurston appeared in little doubt for Sunday’s season decider after moving freely at training at Leichhardt Oval.
And Renouf believes North Queensland will need him to be firing if they are to seal their maiden premiership in their 20th-anniversary year.
Despite the emergence of five-eighth and Maroons Origin utility Michael Morgan and a world class Cowboys pack, Renouf said the grand final equation was simple – no Thurston heroics, no historic win for North Queensland.
“He will have to fire for them to win. They are very much a one-man band,” Renouf told Fox Sports TV.
“They might not like people saying that with Michael Morgan and (back-rower) Gavin Cooper around JT.
“But the crunch plays that lead to tries 99 per cent of the time, they come from him.
“If he is wounded or is taken out it will be very hard for them to win.”
Thurston had taken part at training this week but Friday marked the first time he ran at their sessions in a timely shot in the arm for North Queensland.
Thurston said this week was “business as usual”.
The other major fitness concern ahead of the grand final is retiring Brisbane co-captain Justin Hodges, who will nurse a back complaint in the decider.
However Broncos assistant Kevin Walters reckoned Hodges had already overcome his biggest pre-grand final hurdle – escaping a career ending dangerous throw ban at the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night.
“He’ll train on Saturday morning then rest up for the big game, so he’ll be leading the boys out,” Walters told Triple M radio.
“His biggest challenge was getting through on Tuesday night through the judiciary, a lot of emotion went into that.”
Renouf admitted he thought Hodges was “gone” when he was sidelined in the first half of their 31-12 NRL preliminary final win over Sydney Roosters last week with a back complaint.
“He came out a new man. I don’t think it will hinder him – he wants to finish this week well,” he said.
Brisbane are eyeing their seventh title under returning coach Wayne Bennett.
But Townsville born ex-Bronco Gorden Tallis reckoned it would benefit league if the Cowboys emerged triumphant.
“I’m a proud Bronco but I think it’s better for the game if North Queensland win,” the 160-game former Broncos veteran told Triple M radio.
“I know what it means to the region.”