Some much needed time off mid-season has Johnathan Thurston primed to lead North Queensland’s search for their first NRL premiership.
Thurston and the Cowboys traditionally cut a fatigued figure in the lead-in to the final series, but things are vastly different this year.
Instead of chasing the pack at the tail end of the regular season, the Cowboys are at the front of it, with a refreshed Thurston leading the charge.
The Cowboys’ 11-match winning streak earlier this season has given them some breathing space near the top of the NRL ladder and allowed coach Paul Green to give Thurston some time away from the game.
Monday’s win over Manly was just the second game Thurston has played in a month, after he was rested from their round-16 loss to Cronulla. Thurston played in the win over Canberra on June 20, three days after State of Origin II.
But since then and the win over Manly, Origin III was the superstar playmaker’s only game. He was afforded more time off after Queensland’s win in the interstate decider, with the Cowboys enjoying the bye after game three, then not playing until the next Monday night.
“I’m feeling very fresh, especially mentally,” Thurston said.
“It is a tough period the middle of the season and to be able to have that break, the week off not playing against the Sharks and then coming back later (after Origin III), the body mentally and physically feels good.”
In the past two years the Cowboys have had to negotiate a number of must-win games to qualify for the finals. But now with seven rounds to play they sit a win behind ladder-leader Brisbane, after securing a finals spot with the win over Manly, and four points ahead of third-placed Sydney Roosters.
“It is an exciting time for us at the back end of this year coming into the finals, but we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Thurston said.
“We have been in a different position over the last few years, we have been chasing our tails.
“But after the Origin period we have put ourselves in a good position. It is now up to us to play some consistent football over the next month.”