Johnathan Thurston says he can’t remember much about the two grand finals he was involved in a decade ago. But if he can lead North Queensland to their inaugural NRL premiership, it will surely be a match he will never forget.
Thurston played in Canterbury’s 2004 premiership win and in the Cowboys’ loss in their first title decider the following year.
Since that grand final, the Cowboys finals campaigns have been littered with failure. Not so this year. Saturday’s 32-12 preliminary final disposal of Melbourne at AAMI Park has pitched them into a grand final showdown with Brisbane and the opportunity to finally cement themselves as a premiership heavyweight.
For Thurston, who has provided so many highlights from his week-to-week efforts with the Cowboys and his performances at representative level for Queensland and Australia, guiding North Queensland to a title is the last thing left on his rugby league to-do list.
That opportunity comes knocking nice and loud next Sunday at ANZ Stadium.
“This is what you set out to do every November, I am extremely happy for the club and the boys, it is going to be a very enjoyable week,” Thurston said.
“We were heading into the finals 2-6, the form wasn’t great but it is good to see the boys turn it around.
“I can’t really remember those two (grand final) weeks, (but) it is just about enjoying the week and preparing the best that you can.
“There is a lot happening during the week and you have to make sure it doesn’t become a distraction, you have to get the best out of your body for the week and prepare the best that you can.”
Thurston and halves partner Michael Morgan, who scored two tries, led the way for the Cowboys, while Matt Scott and his front-row partner James Tamou dominated Storm up front.
Melbourne stayed in the contest in the first half before the Cowboys ran away with proceedings after the break.
The Broncos sealed their grand final berth in coach Wayne Bennett’s first year back at Red Hill with a 31-12 thumping of the hapless Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
The Roosters now have only one premiership to show for three successive minor premierships.
The loss of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to a season-ending knee injury was a hurdle the Roosters couldn’t overcome, while captain Mitchell Pearce took a hamstring complaint into the preliminary final and didn’t take the field after halftime.
The Broncos were deserved winners, with the visitors on the back foot from the first minute when Shaun Kenny-Dowall gifted Darius Boyd a try with a wayward pass.
Rugby league now has its first all-Queensland grand final, with Roosters coach Trent Robinson left to plan for 2016. Former Manly assistant coach Andrew Johns has been lured to Bondi for next year as a mentor to halves Mitchell Pearce, Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima.
“I enjoyed my time at Manly. It’s a great club,” Johns said on Channel Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.
“But they’ve gone in a different direction, so I’m looking forward to working with Mitchell and Jackson Hastings and young Nikorima but also the young kids coming through in the junior system there at the Roosters.”