Thurston facing his greatest test
My good mate Johnathan Thurston has done everything there is in the game and stands alongside Darren Lockyer as the greatest player I've played with or against but the million dollar question is whether he can take the Cowboys to back-to-back premierships.
Johno is well into his 30s now and has won every single award there is six times over but sometimes when you win a grand final the hunger and desire is not as much as it used to be. That's going to be Johno's challenge this year: Is the desire still there to go back to back?
Going back to his beliefs and the way he trains and the way he plays, if he keeps that up then the Cowboys are going to be a big show again this year.
My relationship with Johno goes back to when I was at the Roosters and he was at the Bulldogs and even though we were on opposition teams in Sydney our Indigenous heritage brought us together.
All Indigenous people have a pretty close bond and even if you had never met each other before you have an instant connection.
We'd catch up over a few beers and talk about footy and our background but our families knew each other even before then. My dad and Johno's mum actually worked together as police liaison officers in Brisbane which is crazy when you think about how much football we've played together since.
What sets him apart from the other great players in the NRL is his attitude and his will to win, the amount of work he does and how much he competes. I've seen fast players make breaks and he's still trying to chase them down even though he's not going to get there.
If you want to see how competitive JT is in camp you've only got to be there in the room when I towel him up at FIFA, which used to happen quite regularly. He'd throw the controller and all sorts of things, but we're all like that, including myself and GI. We're all pretty competitive people and when we get beaten we always find an excuse for why we lost.
Johno does everything right. He trains hard, he eats well, prepares himself probably the best I've ever seen and that is something that has grown on him. At the start he probably didn't prepare as well and like a lot of us relied mostly on his natural ability but as everyone knows ability only takes you so far.
In terms of having him as a teammate, he's one of the best that I've ever had. The amount of confidence that he shows in you and the amount of belief that he gives you is quite incredible.
When you look beside you and you've got a guy like him in your team you know that you've always got a good chance of winning, whether that's when we've been playing for Queensland, Australia or for the Indigenous All Stars team.
Facing off against each other in the grand final last year in what would be my last game was quite a surreal feeling. When I saw GI win the grand final with Souths in 2014 it made me want to get back in that atmosphere and I knew whichever way the result went I was going to be happy.
After the game I remember giving him a hug. Johno was crying and I was trying to hold it in but we just congratulated each other. Johno was saying sorry but at the end of the day there's always a winner and a loser and those guys earned the right to be called champions.
It was a nice moment and we texted each other later that night and he said some nice things about me so it was great.
To me Johno is so much more than just a teammate; he's like a brother to me. When I got injured or when I got the captaincy, he was one of the first blokes who rang up. Even before he jumped on the plane to go to England for the World Club Challenge last week he rang me to see how my new life after footy was going and to let him know if I needed anything.
He probably doesn't have to make those phone calls to me or text me to see how I'm going but that's just the type of person that Johno is.
Those little things make the man that he is today.
I'm a guy that doesn't like too much change but I can understand why new Queensland coach Kevin Walters has made the changes that he has. I don't like eating food that I've never had before and I'm a guy that likes to keep things pretty simple but when you've had a squad that has been together for more than 10 years at some stage you have to fine-tune a few things to keep up with everything else that is going on. The staff that we had in there were fantastic and Kevvie hasn't made too many changes, just a couple that will hopefully benefit the team a little bit more. Change can be good and I can assure all Maroons fans that it won't disrupt the Queensland camp too much.
Broncos and Maroons legend Justin Hodges hosts League Nation Live which airs for the first time on NITV on Tuesday, March 1 at 7.30pm.