Marking Thurston merely Laybutt's day job
He was the 21-year-old unknown almost thrust into the shoes of one of the game's greatest players but for Cowboys rookie Kyle Laybutt going head-to-head with Johnathan Thurston is now just "another day at the office".
Called into the XXXX Queensland Residents team following the withdrawal of outstanding Storm talent Brodie Croft who represented the Junior Kangaroos on Friday night, Laybutt sees his first senior representative jersey as another step towards an NRL debut.
That call-up to the top grade appeared to have come a month ago following the calf injury to Thurston but given he was only just back from seven weeks out with a knee injury himself, the decision was made by coach Paul Green to save Laybutt's debut for another day.
The Bundaberg junior will partner Easts Tigers five-eighth Billy Walters in the halves for Queensland Residents against the Intrust Super Premiership NSW pairing of Mitch Cornish and Jayden Nikorima in the annual clash at Suzuki Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Laybutt, Nikorima and Cornish have all come through the National Youth Competition but few are afforded the type of rugby league education that Laybutt has been blessed with since graduating from the 20s at the end of the 2015 season and joining the Cowboys' NRL squad.
"I oppose [Thurston] and [Michael] Morgan a lot and they do help me out if I'm not doing something right or if I could do something better," Laybutt told NRL.com.
"Pretty much everyone does that at the club which is awesome and 'Greeny' (Paul Green) is a good help too, being an ex-half.
"When I first started training with first grade I was quite intimidated obviously.
"The calibre of stars at the Cowboys is pretty amazing but after a while getting to see them every day and getting to know them, they're just normal blokes and they treat you with respect and you respect them.
"It ends up just being another day at the office."
Thrown up by Green as a potential replacement for Thurston for the Round 7 clash with the Dragons, Laybutt said he left a meeting with the NRL coach informing that he wouldn't be playing with even more confidence that he would one day play NRL than when he went in.
"He made the decision for me. He called me into his office and said, 'You know you'd be playing if it wasn't for injury' and just reassured me that I was good enough," Laybutt said.
"It did give me confidence coming out of the meeting, knowing that I was good enough to play, the timing of it just wasn't good.
"I'd been out for seven weeks so I probably wasn't ready to play against a Dragons team that was pretty hot at the time.
"I wasn't too shattered but it's obviously disappointing not to get the call-up when I probably could have had a chance there."
A Queensland under-18s representative in 2013, Laybutt scored 10 tries in 16 appearances in his only Holden Cup season in 2015 and last year was the Townsville Blackhawks' leading point-scorer, scoring seven tries and kicking 47 goals for 122 points in 17 games.
But more than any point-scoring feats, being able to physically handle the demands of playing against men convinced Laybutt that his NRL dream was by no means out of reach.
"Probably just that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was defensively," Laybutt said when asked what he learnt about his game last year.
"My defence was probably one of my highlights last year and I pride myself on it. I just felt a lot more comfortable in the Q Cup. The boys made me feel welcome from the get-go.
"I did notice the physicality was a lot more stepping up to the Q Cup and I assume this Residents game will be a lot more physical and faster. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
"It's just ticking off another goal. My goal obviously is to play NRL eventually but making these teams is a step in the right direction."