Johnathan Thurston is already mentally preparing for the end of his brilliant career but not before he adds a World Club Challenge winners medal to an already bulging trophy cabinet.
Thurston picked up the Golden Boot in Leeds on Thursday for a record third time, capping off a fantastic 12 months that saw him inspire North Queensland to a first NRL premiership, help Queensland regain the State of Origin Shield and win a fourth Dally M Medal.
The Cowboys face English Super League giants Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Carnegie on Sunday with the same 17-man squad that beat Brisbane on the dramatic October Sunday in Sydney and Thurston said it’s a game he is desperate to win.
“It would rank right up there if we do win,” Thurston said in Manchester this week.
“We’d be the best team in the world and that has a nice ring to it.
“I’ve prioritised this game and it was a tough decision to pull out of the All Stars. I am very proud of my indigenous background but this is a box I really wanted to tick.”
Thurston turns 33 in April and victory against a Leeds side that has won this competition three times would leave him with nothing else to achieve in the game.
His contract with the Cowboys expires at the end of 2018 and the Brisbane-born playmaker said he’ll then almost certainly hang up his boots – ruling out any possibility of seeing out his career in the Super League.
“I am probably going to be too old for that.” he said.
“I am enjoying my football and hopefully that will continue this season and I have an injury-free year.
“But I am 33 this year … so I’ll look to go again in 2018 and then that will probably be it.”
Super League champions Leeds have got off to their worst start to a season in 16 years and sit bottom of the table having lost their first two matches including a heavy loss to Widnes.
It’s led to allegations the players have been too focused on the NRL premiers and with Stevie Ward, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, former Gold Coast hooker Beau Falloon and skipper Danny McGuire injured, the odds are heavily stacked against the home side.
However, acting-captain Rob Burrow said there is no lack of confidence among the Rhinos players.
“I know a lot of people in the crowd are going to be thinking that but that’s not the case,” Burrow said.
“It’s never the case. We were focused on playing well last week. But we didn’t, we were terrible. Everything went wrong for us.
“I thought Widnes were really, really good and it made it a long day for us.
“But we can’t dwell on that. Last week has finished now, we’ve got to move on to North Queensland.”