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The Cowboys celebrate Johnathan Thurston's grand final-winning field goal.

What does it say about a player who is in arguably career-best form, yet whose physical tools have started to slow down?

Johnathan Thurston is one of the rare players who is both feared and revered simply for his football brain, rather than his physical profile.

He used to keep opposition players up at night with the slick 'show-n-go' – slicing defences apart at the line – but with age came a different way to terrorise.

Thurston will play his 250th game in Cowboys colours when they take on the Brisbane Broncos in the second grand final rematch on Friday night.

While his speed of game has clicked back a couple of gears over that time, the transition has been seamless.

He is now the NRL's undisputed grand puppet master, stepping back to get a lay of the land and positioning teammates – oftentimes by physically grabbing them and placing them where he wants – like no other in the game.

That transformation has not gone unnoticed by coach Paul Green, who has seen a positive change in his star since arriving at the helm in 2014.

"I think he's probably learning how to step back from games at different times and manage them better, and just control the game," Green said.

"I think that's probably an area that he's improved on over the past couple of seasons.

"[250 games] is a huge achievement for 'Johnno' personally. He's the sort of bloke who will go out of his way to not make it about him, and we never do make it about any individuals, but by the same token, 250 games for the club is a big achievement."

Thurston was almost lost to the Cowboys in 2013 after Panthers supremo Phil Gould all but lured him to the foot of the mountains but, citing 'unfinished business' with North Queensland, Thurston opted to stay.

History tells us it was the right move. He finally skippered his side to a premiership after a decade of falling short, and has continued his community legacy through off-field pursuits such as the RECOGNISE campaign for indigenous affairs and various Cowboys Community Fund initiatives.

On the field, Thurston links with Gavin Cooper on the left to form one of the most dangerous one-two combinations in the competition, and since re-joining the Cowboys in 2011, the back-rower has marvelled at the evolution of his running mate.

"He sees the game in slow motion, that's the easiest way to explain it," Cooper said.

"He gets a little frustrated on himself when he misses opportunities, but that's because he sees things that other people don't.

"Sometimes if I do something wrong that he doesn’t like he doesn’t have to say too much. He just gives me the evil eye and then I pretty much know on the spot what I've done wrong. He sees the game like no one else.

"Big games are something we've celebrated here for a while, but it's more the milestone games on a club level, not so much NRL level.

"Being able to play 250 for one club is an outstanding effort and to play the way he does is an outstanding effort. I don't need to tell anyone here the standing he has in the game or the community, so I think everyone out there will be cheering [for him]."

Should he remain healthy, Thurston will overtake North Queensland's 'favourite son' Matt Bowen (270 games) as the club's most capped player.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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