Cowboys’ spirit drives NRL title quest

Johnathan Thurston has warned North Queensland’s NRL rivals not to underestimate the motivation the Cowboys have driving them in their search for back-to-back titles.

The game’s best player was front and centre at a low-key NRL season launch at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in Sydney on Thursday as he welcomed in the new rugby league year.

Thurston scaled the game’s heights in 2015 in winning the NRL title and returning Queensland to State of Origin supremacy, claiming the Clive Churchill medal and the Golden Boot Award in the process.

However, the superstar playmaker has urged league fans to think again if they believe he, and the Cowboys, are done as they seek to be the first club to claim successive titles since Brisbane achieved the feat in 1992-93.

“It is a great honour to be up here. I was just a boy from Sunnybank that enjoyed his football,” Thurston said before most of the game’s club captains, NRL powerbrokers and assembled media.

“I am blessed to be able to stand here now, having played 268 games. I would have been happy to play one. Game 268 was a very special one and a game I will never forget.

“It is a new year, but if you think we won’t be fighting as hard as we did last year, to take the trophy back up to Townsville as well as Mackay, Cairns and the 16,000 other kilometres we dragged the trophy to late last year, you don’t understand the power of this game and the motivation we all have.”

The Cowboys continued their winning ways on Monday morning, winning the World Club Challenge over Leeds.

A week out from the season opener between Parramatta and Brisbane, the NRL remains without a chief executive more than five months after Dave Smith’s departure.

It was left up to ARL Commission chairman John Grant to open the new season on behalf of the game’s governing body.

“I don’t have to tell you how close this competition has historically been, the closest in the world and it is going to continue to be close,” Grant said.

“What we do know is that we will see faster and more open rugby league and faster and more consistent video refereeing decisions.”

The NRL’s new ‘History Happens’ commercial was shown for the first time. Grant said it was the first time in many years the NRL had not opted to use a theme song for the season ahead “because the football will speak for itself”.

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