Premiership-winning Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston says he expects coach Paul Green to once again manage his workload through Origin as the ageing superstar tries to help his side become the first club in 23 years to go back-to-back.
The record-holder for most consecutive Origin appearances (33 and counting) also confirmed the 2017 World Cup would be his representative swansong if he is picked, with a view to potentially playing his last season for North Queensland in 2018.
Last year Green rested the 32-year-old from just one club game – a 24-18 loss against Cronulla at home in Round 16 – but while the result snapped an 11-game winning streak, those wins had afforded Green the luxury of managing his most important player.
It was one of just two club matches the ironman missed all year, the other coming a week later in Round 17 when he was unavailable due to Origin duty.
The Clive Churchill medallist twice backed up days after playing an Origin match to guide his team to wins – including nailing the winning field goal in a 21-20 heart-stopper against Canberra in Round 15 despite a shoulder injury.
Thurston said if the club puts itself in a similar position in 2016 where it can afford to rest stars that it will likely happen again.
"We haven't spoken about it but if we put ourselves in a position where during that period we can rest some players then we'll look to do that. Whatever's going to be best for the team we'll do," Thurston said at the NRL season launch on Thursday.
"[It was] extremely important. I think it's eight weeks that Origin period... When you're backing up for your club you ride those emotions that are tough to get up for games but to be rest for a game and let the body settle down a bit does wonders for you towards the back end of the year so if we put ourselves in the position then I'm sure talking to 'Greeny' (coach Paul Green) we'll look to do that again."
North Queensland's quest for back-to-back titles will be aided by the rare luxury of fielding an identical playing 17, though the salary cap will almost certainly ensure some players will have to move on from 2017.
Thurston said it is a challenge trying to keep the core group together.
"Obviously with winning a premiership there's normally a high turnover of players that move on so we've got a great development squad that are doing a great job and we've got some really exciting young players coming through," he said.
"With that you need to manage them as well but we're in a unique position where we can field the same 17."
With a huge pre-season which featured most of the top grade 17 featuring in the Auckland Nines before the entire grand final 17 flew to the UK and won the World Club Challenge against Leeds, Thurston was wary about the side falling away in the same manner 2014 premiers South Sydney had a year earlier.
"It's always an issue within our game, player burnout, teams fading away towards the back end of the year," he said.
"I haven't seen any complacency from our boys. We're still working extremely hard so we're in a unique position where we need to try and make the most of this opportunity that's in front of us."
Asked about his rep future, Thurston said he would call stumps after the next World Cup at the end of next year, if he makes it that far.
"I'll look to hopefully make it to the World Cup in 2017. If my form is good enough to warrant selection I'll play in that and if mentally and physically I'm feeling like I am at the moment then I'll look to go again [for the Cowboys] in 2018," he said.
Thurston's Australian and Queensland teammate, Storm skipper Cameron Smith, said there was no doubt the Cowboys would become the hunted side in 2016 but backed the North Queenslanders to ride to the occasion.
"I think they certainly can [go back-to-back]. I don't think they've had too many changes if they've had any at all from their grand final team last year. That sort of continuity in their squad is a huge bonus," Smith said.
"The times where we've won a grand final, we've sort of come out the following year missing a few personnel from that previous year, and we've had to introduce new players. Their side's got a lot of stability around it at the moment, but the hardest thing about being a reigning premier in any season is every team is coming to get you.
"They probably flew under the radar a little bit last year early, and it wasn't until the back end where they were real contenders that teams started aiming up against them. There's no doubting they were outstanding last year and to go back to back, you have to be even better, so that's the challenge for firstly their club, and then obviously their squad as well to be able to turn up every week and produce the goods."