Cowboys' ploy to make JT even better
Cowboys coach Paul Green is toying with the idea of drastically altering the playing schedule of champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston in order to make the best player in the game even better.
Thurston kicks off his 2015 campaign on Friday night as captain of the Indigenous All Stars team and will play in North Queensland's final trial a week later against the Titans in Cairns to round out his most complete pre-season in years.
But despite his physical and mental preparation being the best it has been in a number of seasons, Thurston and Green have discussed strategically positioning weeks off during the course of the season to ensure their star halfback is playing his best football at the right end of the season.
Eels coach Brad Arthur last year credited strategic resting of Jarryd Hayne during the Origin period as a catalyst for the form that took him to a joint Dally M Medal win along with Thurston while former Broncos coach Anthony Griffin also instituted a policy in 2012 of refusing to allow senior players to back-up for their club in the days following Origin matches.
The latitude afforded to Thurston will be largely dependent on how well the Cowboys start the season but with another gruelling Origin campaign awaiting the 31-year-old he admitted that he and the coach have discussed the possibility of being rested from certain games.
"Yes, I have had a chat to 'Greeny' about that," Thurston said as the Indigenous All Stars team gathered on the Gold Coast.
"Fingers crossed we get off to a good start. We have been slow the last three or four years out of the box.
"Hopefully we start the year faster than what we have and if we do then that gives me the opportunity to put those things into place with Greeny."
But more than just ensuring Thurston is physically capable of being at his best for more games more often in 2015, Green told NRL.com that the pair are working on improving his game-management and taking some of the onus off his shoulders to always be the Cowboys' go-to man.
"Physically he's going to be better prepared for this year, fresher mentally and there are still a couple of areas of his game that he can improve on," Green said.
"We all know that if you want a player to come up with the right play when the game's on the line there's probably no one else in the comp that you'd rather have the ball in their hands but just being able to sometimes step back from a game and control things a little bit better, I reckon he can probably get a little bit better at that.
"Being able to step back and understanding what's happening in the game. Where we are in terms of the clock and the scoreboard and all that sort of stuff and making sure we're doing what we need to do at that time.
"In saying that, [his competitiveness] is what makes him a great player so I'll never try to take that away from him either. We all marvel at the way he competes and some of the efforts that he makes – his ability to be able to execute skill under pressure is unbelievable and I'll never try to take that away from him."
Few players in the modern game have shown better game management than Broncos, Queensland and Australia legend Darren Lockyer and Thurston was given a first-hand account at his skill in almost a decade of Origin football together for Queensland.
As Lockyer went away from beating players with speed to out-witting them with his smarts, Thurston said he is well aware of the need to make the right decisions at crucial times in the game.
"When you're playing in the halves it's about getting the boys around the park and making the right decisions and the better players make the right decision nine times out of 10," Thurston said.
"We've got a lot of good players in this team and I feel that the last 12-18 months I haven't had to come up with the big play because we haven't needed me to do it but someone else has stood up.
"Game management is something that I'll continue to work on because every game that you come up against is different.
"[Lockyer] was probably one of the best at it, his kicking game was second to none as well and he controlled the game with his boot. Being able to play alongside him for all those years, no doubt I've been able to learn a lot off him and hopefully been able to implement that into my own game as well."