Sharks bracing for JT to play
Will he or won't he?
That's the question on everyone's lips after seeing Johnathan Thurston's name on an extended bench for North Queensland's Thursday night blockbuster against the Sharks.
The champion playmaker missed last week's win over the Bulldogs after injuring his shoulder in the Anzac Test in what was his first game back from a calf complaint that had sidelined him for three matches.
Thurston's return would be a huge boost for a Cowboys side that re-entered the Telstra Premiership top eight following a gutsy 30-14 win over the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on the back of a five-star performance from five-eighth Michael Morgan.
The Maroons and Kangaroos utility produced his best performance of the season with a try and four try assists that all but confirmed his spot in the Queensland side ahead of the State of Origin opener on May 31.
Morgan has been named in the halves alongside Ray Thompson for Thursday's clash, but Sharks halfback Chad Townsend said he wouldn't be surprised to see the man in jersey No.19 run onto Southern Cross Group Stadium instead.
"We'll probably prepare for him to play. You'd be silly not to prepare for a fully-fit Cowboys team so I daresay we'll train as if he's going to play," Townsend told NRL.com.
"I thought Morgan did a tremendous job against the Bulldogs. He directed his forwards around the field pretty well and they came away with a solid win without Johnathan Thurston.
"They're going to be dangerous if JT does play, but the form of Michael Morgan means we'll have to be on our toes either way."
The heavyweight showdown will have extra meaning given it was the Sharks who knocked the Cowboys out in the 2016 preliminary final to bring an end to their premiership defence.
The same thing happened in the previous season when North Queensland hammered the Sharks 39-0 in week two of the finals and then downed the Storm and Broncos to claim their maiden premiership.
Townsend – who was at the Warriors in 2015 – said the finals loss wasn't used as added motivation when the sides met last season, and doesn't believe it will be a factor in the lead up to Thursday's game either.
"We didn't really speak about that in the build up to last year's games and I don't think they'll use the preliminary final as extra motivation. We've got some new players – as do they – so we're looking at it as a whole new game," he said.
"It's going to be a cracker of a game regardless because the Cowboys are a quality team and we think of ourselves as a quality team as well. When you get two teams that are going well, it's going to be a quality match regardless of what might have happened in the past.
"We've always had some traditionally strong games against the Cowboys and I doubt Thursday is going to be any different to that."