It wouldn’t be a Johnathan Thurston story if there wasn’t one kid singled out and made to feel like he was on top of the world.
Around 3000 fans rocked up in their Cowboys best for the club’s open training session on Tuesday afternoon, and while Townsville’s town centre was eerily void of navy, yellow and white, 1300SMILES stadium was a sea of wide-eyed fans brimming with hope and anticipation.
If Monday night’s hastily-organised Dally M ball at the old Jupiter’s Casino was heavy with expectation, then the crowd in Kirwan, with an inaugural premiership now at their feet, was laden with anticipation.
The entire squad, minus the rested Gavin Cooper and Thurston, were put through their paces for roughly 45 minutes by assistant coach John Cartwright and barely broke out a sweat.
The light jog then came to an abrupt end when the champion skipper made his way towards the western grandstand
On Saturday night, it was young Melbourne Storm supporter Oscar that was converted into a Cowboys fan for the week.
On Tuesday, Thurston made a beeline for five-year-old Jamin.
Instantly the crowd broke into an approving cheer, the popular halfback signing the first of many autographs along a packed sideline.
“It was amazing to be the first people that he came over to, it was pretty cool,” mum Brooklyn told AAP on behalf of her son.
“Jamin actually goes to dress-up parties as JT. While all of his kids go as superheroes, Jamin goes with the headgear and everything.”
The Thurston signature will no doubt be a prized possession for the junior footballer, who has looked up to the Australian playmaker since the family moved into town nine years ago.
Mum is an equally unabashed fan of the home town-favourite, too.
“I like that he’s a family man,” she said.
“He’s been committed to Townsville, he’s a leader… I like all those things about him. And of course, he’s an amazing player.”
Another fan, Meaghan, has been patiently waiting for this week’s festivities since the club’s inaugural season in 1995.
“It’s euphoric at the moment, we’re stoked,” she said.
“Heaps of displays in town are up already, and there’s very little Broncos gear around. There’s usually a fair few people up here supporting them, but nothing now.”
For Meaghan and her family, Sunday’s opportunity for the Cowboys to lift the trophy doubles as a chance to lift the spirits of a region hit hard by drought, unemployment and the fall of the mining industry.
“It’s affected everyone,” she said.
“We’ve had family and friends having to move out because of employment issues… so having a big, exciting premiership come home would do wonders for the town.”
A third fan, Chantal, beat this week’s price hike in airfares thanks to her husband’s faith in their team playing on the first Sunday in October.
Returns flights have hit an exorbitant $1000 with some airlines.
“We booked that three months ago, so we were pretty lucky,” she said.
“My husband reckoned it was our year, so we took a bit of a gamble. I said I’d believe it when I see it, whereas he was a bit more positive.
“We’ve had a few bad calls against us in recent years, so we’ve done very well.”
Fans flocked to Townsville airport on Sunday to greet their heroes following their preliminary final triumph over Melbourne.
A similar turnout is expected when the team embarks on a grand final parade on Thursday morning, shortly before departing for Sydney.