Johnathan Thurston is one of a number of Origin stars who returns to action this week.

Thurston-DCE challenge to light up Brookvale

Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston is not only the key threat that Manly faces at Brookvale on Monday night but he's also likely to go down as one of, if not the greatest players of the modern era.

Thurston is already tied with Newcastle legend Andrew Johns for most individual Dally M Medals, with three, and is a short-priced favourite to win an unprecedented fourth in a year where he has already helped orchestrated yet another Origin series win for Queensland and guided his side to the pointy end of the NRL ladder heading into the home straight.

Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran said Thurston is arguably the best player in the game right now and has been for some time.

"I've got no doubt that he'll finish his career as an immortal," Foran said.

"Just an amazing [player] and such a big challenge every time you come up against him.

"In my opinion he's been someone you certainly try and model your game on in recent times. Someone that continually turns up and produces in the big games and at the big times.

"You always see it as a massive test whenever you come up against any of those guys that are at the top of our game, you see it as a massive challenge. Every time you come up against someone like 'JT' you want to try and challenge yourself against the best and he is the best."

 

Cherry-Evans, who played alongside Thurston in two Origins this year, joked that betting agencies already paying out on Thurston to win the Dally M this year gives some indication of his recent form.

"Monday's going to be a big test for us as a side and also me individually playing against JT and Michael Morgan," Cherry-Evans said.

"We're looking forward to the challenge but we're going to have to do a really good job of limiting JT, he's a pretty special player.

"I've learned as I've come through the NRL to really accept challenges against good sides and good players. The Cowboys are both of those so I'm really looking forward to it Monday night at Brookvale Oval."

Manly prop Willie Mason agreed Thurston was the best player in the world right now and in the top three players he'd ever seen after Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus.

"The last couple of years I reckon he's really solidified where's he's at, he's top three. Joey, Bedsy and him are my top three. Different sort of players, different leaderships and different skills. They're unbelievable.

"The way he plays, he kicks goals, he plays 80 minutes, he kicks under fatigue... it's tough. He puts his body on the line all the time. I've got nothing but praise for him."

 

Mason, a proud New South Welshman and veteran of 13 Origins – nine of those opposite Thurston – said even in Origin you just have to "sit back and applaud", suggesting the Cowboys playmaker could potentially pip Andrew Johns as the best he's ever seen if he's able to captain North Queensland to a premiership.

Manly fullback Brett Stewart said Thurston had shut his critics up during a dominant Origin series.

"He just plays off the cuff. A lot of teams these days are structured and whenever they fall out of that structure things go out the window. I think Thurston plays what he sees, the blokes around him seem to jump on board, you'd be silly not to because he's just so smart with the ball in his hands."

Thurston's scintillating form has seen him rack up a stunning 18 try assists in 13 games so far this year – but the equal next best is Cherry-Evans, with 12 in 15 games.

Their head to head battle on Monday is not only tantalising but may well define their respective side's seasons; Manly's slim hopes of making this year's finals series all-but rest on getting a win at home against the Cowboys, while Thurston's side's hopes of a top-two finish and vital home final or even a minor premiership could rest on taking two points home from Brookvale on Monday.