Thompson an unlikely Mango substitute
There are a couple of roles that Ray Thompson is still battling to come to grips with at the North Queensland Cowboys.
The first is that of a starting No.9 in the NRL, a role that he was thrust into for the first time by former Cowboys mentor Neil Henry in Round 13 last season and which he showed a natural affinity for.
The other, as explained by Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston, is to assume the mantle from departed fullback Matthew Bowen as the serial prankster amongst the group.
"Everyone thinks that Ray Thompson has gotten very cheeky over the last couple of years," Thurston explains, who struggled to adjust to life at the Cowboys without the man they call 'Mango' upon his return from the World Cup.
"He's come out of his shell and I think he's heading that way as well. I think he'll probably step into Mango's boots and become the prankster and the jokester and wind the boys up I reckon."
The shift of Thompson to hooker at the back-end of the 2013 season coincided with the Cowboys' late surge to the finals but the Papua New Guinea international missed the Qualifying Final after having his jaw broken in Round 24 against the Knights.
Coming back in time to represent the Kumuls at the World Cup helped Thompson to overcome the mental demons associated with such a serious injury but he admits that he is still coming to terms with what it takes to be an NRL No.9.
New Cowboys coach Paul Green thought enough of Thompson's finish to last season to give him first shot at the starting hooker role but after a fortnight relegated him to the bench in favour of Rory Kostjasyn.
"It was more to work on a few things and I'm still working on them now," Thompson said of the shift to the bench. "It wasn't as if I was playing bad but he just wanted a bit more out of me so I'm trying to do that.
"I'm still trying to get the gist of it and still learning a lot of things but 'Greeny' has been great for me and so have the other coaches. It's just a matter of keep working hard and hopefully things pay off."
If numbers are any indication Green's decision to start with Kostjasyn has brought the best out of Thompson, who on Saturday night made 47 tackles in just 39 minutes against the Wests Tigers.
The week before he ran for 154 metres and scored a try against the Knights having run for a total of 40 metres in the two games he started in Round 1 and Round 2.
It's another adjustment for a young man who has played predominantly in the halves throughout his 73-game career to date but one he is determined to make a success of.
Having established himself as the first-choice Cowboys hooker last year, Thompson had it taken away but was overcome by the response from fans to his unfortunate injury.
"They talk about rugby league being a family game and you really feel a part of something, especially when you're down in the dumps or you're going through tough times," Thompson said of having to recover from a smashed jaw in hospital. "You really feel the support of the supporters and other players, not only just your family and friends, it was awesome.
"It really puts into perspective what a great game this is and the love and support that you get from people that you don't even know. They still support you and wish you the best which is unreal and really humbling."