Reigning premiers North Queensland have arrived at season 2016 on the offensive, with co-captain Johnathan Thurston playing the ‘rival’ card in describing their Round 1 opponent the Cronulla Sharks.
Featuring seven-tackle tries, an ‘unwinnable game’ and the end of an 11-game winning streak, recent history between the two certainly makes for interesting reading.
Between the controversial 2013 elimination final victory, a one-point defeat from the longest odds this century and two regular season wins in 2015, Cronulla has had the better of the recent match-up.
But when the chips were down in the semi-finals last season, the eventual premiers claimed the win, knocking off the visitors in a one-sided match at 1300SMILES Stadium.
Big things are expected of Cronulla this year after a successful off-season recruitment drive which included the acquisitions of quality halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend, but it is the men up the middle – namely a certain lock forward – who have added some spice to this contest.
“We are starting to get a really heathy rivalry between the two clubs,” Thurston said on Monday.
“They dusted us twice throughout the year last year, and over the years the semi-finals we’ve played against them, it’s starting to be a really good rivalry.
“They will be disappointed with the way they ended the year, and they will have full confidence they’ve recruited well also. They’re one of the smokies and no doubt they will have a good year.”
Meanwhile, with new interchange rules and the ‘shot clock’ coming in to play this season, it has been said that Thurston could exploit big tiring packs – such as Cronulla’s – with the type of probing runs seen in the World Club Challenge match against Leeds.
However, the 32-year-old was quick to quash any thought of using his tricky running game too often this season, mindful of preserving himself for the pointy end of the year.
“’Greeny’ wasn’t too happy with that,” Thurston said of his running game against Leeds.
“I could feel that I was getting a fair bit of pressure from the outside and I threw an intercept in the first couple minutes, so I was just holding onto the ball [in that game]. But my style of play won’t change [from last season].
“I haven’t spoken to [Green about resting] at all. If we get in the position like we were last year where he has the option of resting players or limiting their time, then I’m sure he will look to do that. But we haven’t spoken about it.”