Green confident there is life after JT
The carnival has ended. Perhaps the greatest player of all time, Johnathan Thurston, has played his last game in true champion style in front of a packed house on the Gold Coast.
And when Mad Monday is finished and the awards night passes, the North Queensland Cowboys will wake up to the fact that their greatest challenge is about to start.
For the first time since 2010 they will not play finals footy and in 2019 they must look to regain their premiership credibility without the most influential player in their history, who has been there for 14 seasons.
Yet, the past five weeks of 2018 has given coach Paul Green great hope that the culture, confidence and work ethic in North Queensland is strong enough to greatly balance the loss of their champion.
The Cowboys won four of their final six matches, topped off with the 30-26 win over the Titans, and go into next season probably with a new indigenous match-winner in Ben Barba, well equipped to quickly turn around their fortunes.
"I'm really proud of that [how strongly the team finished]," said Green.
"I'm not happy about where we finished but I am proud of the way we have gone about our season.
"Things didn't go our way for a lot of different reasons but throughout that period we stuck together; we were copping criticism from all sorts of different areas – the public, the media and what not.
'That's probably the ultimate test of your culture and your team spirit and I think that really held up.
"We were in just about every game we've played this year and that's a credit to the players and to the respect they have for guys like Johnno and the jersey as well."
Green does not try to hide from the massive void Thurston will leave, and the challenge ahead to develop a team that can win the big moments, the big games and do it consistently.
"It's a huge transition for us," he said.
"Last year gave us a bit of taste for it but [when Thurston missed the second half of the season with injury] but he was still around training.
"It will be different for all of us when we turn up at pre-season and we don't hear that laugh in the locker room. It will be a challenge.
"But if we approach it the right way and look forward to it – it is what it is.
"As long as we don't fall into the trap of trying to replace him or find the next JT, we'll be OK. There is a still a good group there."
Thurston chimed in: "I expect us to bounce back next year with the roster we have got. We had some young boys who have tasted first grade experience and know what it is like to compete week in week out and I have no worries in my mind the club will be a success in the future."
The Cowboys took a lot of time out after the match to not just recognise Thurston but talk of the legacy they want to maintain. And the message was repeated via several speakers, privately and as a group.
JT's desire to walk on every moment at training and in a game, and never put then team above the player, is what his mates are inspired to continue.
When asked what Johnathan Thurston legacy he wants the club to treasure, Green replied: "On the field, the biggest thing that stands out is his will to win and competitive nature; he never gives up and keeps trying.
"Whoever pulls on the jersey wants to uphold that legacy.
"Off the field, the one thing that sticks in my mind about JT is his humility. For all that he has done as a person as a player, he is always humble and has got plenty of time for everyone and wants to help where ever he can.
"They are great traits and traits that we hold in high regard as a club, and Johnno epitomises that."