He is the red-hot favourite to nab a record fourth Dally M medal on Monday night, but North Queensland star Johnathan Thurston won’t be there to wear it.
Instead, the Cowboys skipper will be in Townsville preparing to further enhance his legacy by leading the club to what would be their first premiership when they meet Brisbane in the NRL’s all-Queensland decider on Sunday.
He will also be furiously nursing calf and groin injuries, which would be strained by the additional flights to and from Sydney, having just returned home from Melbourne on Sunday.
Thurston’s absence at The Star will also cast doubt on the attendance of new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was expected to crown the winner.
Thurston was a joint winner at last year’s gala night, alongside NRL-turned-NFL star Jarryd Hayne.
It was the third time the current Queensland and Australian playmaker was crowned the league’s MVP, having taken top honours in 2005 and 2007, equalling Newcastle legend Andrew Johns.
But a fourth gong on Monday night would elevate Thurston above the eighth Immortal, cementing his spot among the game’s greats.
He led the Dally M count on 19 points when voting went behind closed doors after round 16.
Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods sat in second spot with 18, while St George-Illawarra halfback Benji Marshall ranked third on 14.
Canberra’s Blake Austin, Penrith’s Matt Moylan and the now-departed Parramatta No. 7 Chris Sandow all had 13.
Two weeks ago, the 33-year-old Thurston won the Rugby League Players’ Association’s Player of the Year award – voted by the players – for a record fourth time.
He is also State of Origin’s all-time highest pointscorer, helping lead the Maroons to a record eight consecutive series wins between 2006-14, and hasn’t missed a match for his state since 2005.
All that remains is for the former Canterbury player to add to his sole premiership with the Bulldogs in 2004.
However, Johns doesn’t believe another ring is necessary for Thurston to be considered one of the best to play the game.
“Win, lose or draw, come Sunday, it doesn’t affect his legacy,” Johns said of Thurston on the Nine Network’s Sunday Footy Show.
“People are saying he has to win this grand final for X, Y and Z.
“It doesn’t affect anything. He’s still regarded as one of the greatest to ever play our game.”
On the eve of the finals series, Thurston threatened to boycott the event due to the RLPA’s dispute with the NRL over player welfare and pay issues.
Grand final coaches Paul Green (Cowboys) and Wayne Bennett (Broncos) are expected to battle it out for the coach of the year award.