Last ride for JT and Sam in Queensland derby
Brisbane junior Johnathan Thurston will take on Townsville local Sam Thaiday for the last time, when the former runs on for the North Queensland Cowboys, and the latter for his 300th game in a Broncos jersey.
It's an odd disparity in a rivalry that has been fought out at club level all the way to the grand final in recent years. They were long-time teammates for Queensland and Australia but Thursday night's encounter at 1300Smiles Stadium will be the last time they compete against each other for their clubs.
"It's a big game, I know JT is looking forward to it, as are all the other players," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"Traditionally they're big games, pretty close encounters usually, so I think it's exciting."
With the Broncos coming off a 14-point loss it seems unlikely they'll play as poorly as they did against the Bulldogs, but Green wants his players solely focused on what they can do well.
"I'm not too worried about whether they won or lost last week and whether or not they're going to be on their game or off their game," he said.
"We've got to prepare as if they're at their best, that's what we need to do also."
Thaiday will join Darren Lockyer (355 games) and Corey Parker (349) as the only Broncos to have played 300 games for the club.
"I think it is wonderful for him and fairly remarkable for us as a club. We are only a young club and we've got three 300-game players," Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said.
"We will have another one I imagine in Darius [Boyd] and it makes me proud of our club that we can keep our players that long and that they can finish their careers here."
The 33-year-old Thaiday has not missed a game this year despite question marks being raised about whether he had played a year too long earlier in the season.
Bennett said Thaiday had returned the faith he had shown in him, and then some, while adding that he had been wise to bring down the curtain on his illustrious career which has included 29 State of Origin games for Queensland and 34 Tests for Australia.
"I remember you guys asking me at a press conference whether I was going to send him back to Norths [Devils] at the start of the season and I said that wasn't going to happen," Bennett said.
"He has found his niche now. He's starting for us and has been one of our better players every week regardless of how we have played.
"I am pleased for him but it is time for him to go. He realises that and his body is at that point, but he's done multiple thousands of tackles for us and a lot of carries. He has been a great club player and one that is highly regarded and respected by us all."
On the same evening that Thaiday notches his 300th game, 20-year-old centre Gehamat Shibasaki will make his NRL debut at left centre in place of the dropped Jordan Kahu. Powerhouse forward Tevita Pangai jnr has recovered from a groin injury and will play off the bench. Sam Tagataese drops out of the squad to 18th man.
Bennett said he expected nothing less than a tough encounter with the Cowboys. The past eight clashes between the fierce rivals have been decided by 10 points or less.
"They bring the best out of us and we bring the best out in them and I think it will be another one of those games that you will have to wait until the end to see who wins it," Bennett said.
"We need to get back to playing well, executing and the things we know work for us. If we do that, winning looks after itself."
While the Broncos will be keen to erase the memory of their last performance, the Cowboys went toe-to-toe with the Roosters, and will be hopeful they can replicate their excellent ball control, while tightening up their defence.
"The back end of last week's game shows what we can do as a team, we haven't been really consistent throughout the year but it's something we want to try and improve on for the remainder of the season," Cowboys forward John Asiata said.
"Every game we have against Broncos, even before I've been here, they've always been big games and this is no different."