The unheralded Jack Manski Oval in Townsville looks set to become a whole lot more prominent on Thursday night after North Queensland confirmed it would boast something the All Stars and NRL Auckland Nines could only dream about – Johnathan Thurston in full flight.
Cowboys backrower Gavin Cooper said Thurston would make his first appearance since kicking the 2015 NRL grand final-winning field goal in what was supposed to be a low key trial against Queensland Cup outfit Townsville Blackhawks at the until now obscure ground.
Thurston had opted to keep himself in cotton wool ahead of North Queensland’s World Club Challenge (WCC) clash with English champions Leeds on February 21 in the UK, brushing the Nines and his beloved All Stars as a result.
However, Cooper said Thursday night’s trial against last year’s Queensland Cup runners-up the Blackhawks provided the ideal chance for Thurston to blow off the cobwebs before locking horns with the Rhinos in England.
Asked if Thurston would play, Cooper said: “Yeah, at some stage you’ll definitely see him out here.
“Our boys are really looking forward to it and it will be a good chance to hopefully pick up from where we left off last year.
“It’s a good chance to see our full team in action.”
Cooper admitted Thurston was “champing at the bit” to finally run out four months since he was last sighted savouring North Queensland’s drought breaking NRL title.
Co-captain Matt Scott is also set to be unleashed by Cowboys coach Paul Green in his first game since overcoming off-season neck surgery.
“It’s our only real chance before we get overseas and I’m no coach but I’m presuming one of our strongest sides will be out there for at least the first half and I know the Blackhawks will be taking it very seriously as well,” Cooper said.
Cooper reckoned the as yet unnamed Cowboys line-up would feature an extended squad set to be rotated throughout Thursday night’s trial as they prepare to make some more history in the UK.
“It’s a bit different this year – usually we are getting flogged then tapering towards the start of the NRL season,” Cooper said.
“This year we have something bigger to aim for – I guess you could call it (WCC) a trial but we are not going over there to come second.”
The Cowboys fly out on Friday to prepare for the WCC.
“That camp feel is always fun. It’s going to be tough being so cold over there but it’s something that we’ve pencilled in on the calendar since that day down in Sydney,” Cooper said.