At 32 years and six months, North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston’s NRL premiership window is closing fast.
Not since an ageing Craig Wing in 2001 has a playmaker over the age of 32 lifted the Provan-Summons trophy.
Despite being slight outsiders for Sunday’s all-Queensland title decider against Brisbane, this year’s Cowboys shape as Thurston’s best chance to win a second career title.
In the NRL era, only two other playmakers over the age of 32 have walked away with a premiership ring.
Brisbane’s Kevin Walters did it at 32 in the club’s 2000 premiership while Broncos legend Allan Langer also achieved the feat at the same age in 1998.
Former Cowboys coach Graham Lowe believes his old club is on the verge of a dynasty, given Thurston is the only player in Sunday’s 17 over 30.
Five-eighth Michael Morgan looms as the heir apparent to the Townsville throne, but while his running game is first class, his ability to direct a team around the park remains a question mark.
Such is their reliance on the current Queensland and Australian playmaker that – in similar fashion to Jarryd Hayne’s exit at Parramatta last summer – a painful adjustment period beckons after his eventual retirement.
Already two approaches to promising orchestrators in the under-20s, Penrith-bound five-eighth Te Maire Martin and Gold Coast recruit Ashley Taylor, have been rejected.
Cowboys chairman Laurence Lancini said that while the state obviously has no problem unearthing playmakers – see Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans, Brisbane’s Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford and Canterbury’s Moses Mbye – none might compare to Thurston.
“Every year we see young champions develop,” Lancini told AAP.
“Is there ever going to be someone as good as JT? That’s not for me to say.”
The good thing for this year’s sentimental favourites is that the Dally M medallist is likely to pen an extension until the end of 2018.
But by then he’ll be 35, and premiership winners are even harder to find at that age.