At least another three years of NRL dominance are in store for Johnathan Thurston, league great Darren Lockyer has warned.
Thurston no doubt sent a shudder through the Brisbane camp ahead of Friday night’s grand final re-match when he claimed North Queensland could improve on their 40-0 last-round demolition of the Sydney Roosters.
But the real bombshell came from within after Broncos great Lockyer boldly stated on Wednesday he saw no immediate end in sight to 32-year-old Thurston’s brilliance.
Thurston appeared to be at the peak of his powers in 2015, steering the Cowboys to their golden-point title win over Brisbane in the same year he collected a record third Golden Boot award and fourth Dally M Medal.
Yet, former Test captain Lockyer expected more of the same for years to come.
Asked how long Thurston could maintain his standard of excellence, Lockyer said: “He has another two or three years in him, maybe longer.
“As you get older and more experienced, you learn to get by on the field without bashing yourself up too much.
“I think he is at that point now where is steering his team around but still has that individual brilliance.
“He will come on Friday night with plenty of confidence.
“The Broncos will have their work cut out to shut him down.”
Thurston sounded ready to rise to the occasion on Friday night in front of an expected Suncorp Stadium sell-out.
While Brisbane have gone to great lengths to play down the re-match, Thurston has embraced the hype.
“Both clubs circle it (derby) on the calendar,” the Cowboys co-captain said.
“They will come out firing.
“It will be a packed house. What is there not to love?
“You can’t not get caught up in the hype.”
North Queensland will need Thurston at his best.
The Cowboys have not won at Suncorp Stadium since 2012, losing their past four games.
Paul Green has never savoured victory as Cowboys coach at the venue.
Thurston did fear a backlash from the Broncos – but not from their heartbreaking 2015 grand final loss.
The Cowboys talisman expected Brisbane to find another gear after their second-half fadeout in last round’s shock one-point loss in Penrith.
But, Thurston reckoned the Cowboys could also improve on their rout of the Roosters.
“No doubt, we will have to be better against the Broncos,” he said.
“They will be stinging from their last game.
“It’s always a good battle when we come against the Broncs.”
The Cowboys have named an unchanged team for the derby, with Jake Granville starting at hooker and Rory Kostjasyn back on the bench.