Maroons and Cowboys great Johnathan Thurston believes the NRL finals series and trophy tour in Queensland is a fitting reward for the state’s role in keeping the Telstra Premiership season alive.
Thurston was in Mackay as the Provan-Summons Trophy toured schools and gala days - it will also be on display for crowds at Friday and Saturday night’s sudden-death semi-final clashes featuring some of the biggest stars of the NRL, including local hero Daly Cherry-Evans.
The Manly captain will lead his side against Sydney Roosters on Friday night, while Nathan Cleary’s Penrith outfit face arch rivals Parramatta on Saturday night, and Thurston said fans in regional Queensland would get behind the Sydney teams.
"The people of regional Queensland love their footy, they are probably not fans of the Roosters or the Sea Eagles, or the other teams, but it is a great opportunity for kids - and adults - to see the best players in the world playing NRL finals," Thurston said.
"This the holy grail, this is what they are playing for and you don’t usually see finals football being played at regional grounds, so it is a part of history.
"It is a good reward for the Queensland people, who have supported the game, and also for the Queensland Government, who have saved the season."
Thurston, who led the Cowboys to the 2015 premiership and was a key member of the Maroons teams which dominated State of Origin for eight years, said fans in North Queensland had shown their support for the NRL finals
"There was nearly 20,000 people at the double-header in Townsville last week, Rockhampton was sold out on the Sunday and they are expecting the same here in Mackay," he said.
"It is going to be massive. You have got young Sam Walker, who is 19 years of age and a star in the making for the Roosters, up against Daly Cherry-Evans, the Queensland captain and a Mackay local.
"Daly grew up in Mackay and has done everything in the game, and now he is playing a semi-final in his home town.
"The games now are elimination finals so the stakes are high, the pressure is high and the margin for error is so small in these games.
"As we saw with the Titans against the Roosters last week, if you don’t nail your opportunities that is your season done and that game was a perfect example of that."
The Provan-Summons trophy is in the midst of a two-week journey throughout Queensland leading into the premiership decider, visiting communities and local clubs across the state.
The Trophy Tour kicked off its journey on the Sunshine Coast and it is making its way to Townsville, Rockhampton, Mackay, Redcliffe, Moreton Bay and the Gold Coast before arriving in Brisbane before the NRL grand final on October 3.
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NRL Premiership Trophy Tour Week 1 schedule
Friday, September 10 – Sunshine Coast
- 8:30am – 11:30am: Matt Gillet Gala Day at Caboolture JRL
- 7:50pm: Qualifying final: Melbourne v Manly at Sunshine Coast Stadium
Saturday, September 11 - Townsville
- 11:30am – 1:30pm: Townsville JRL Grand Final Day
- 2.30-3pm: Billabong Sanctuary with Glenn Hall
- 5:40pm: Elimination final: Sydney Roosters v Gold Coast at Queensland Country Bank Stadium
- 7:50pm: Qualifying final: Penrith v South Sydney at Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Sunday, September 12 – Rockhampton
- 4:05pm: Elimination final: Parramatta v Newcastle at Browne Park, Rockhampton
Monday, September 13 – Rockhampton
- 9:00am – 10:00am: Allenstown State School
- 10:30am – 12:00pm: Rockhampton State High School
- 2:00pm: 3:00ppm: Frenchville State School
Tuesday, September 14 – Rockhampton
- 9:00am – 10:30am: Sacred Heart Catholic School
- 11:00am – 12:00pm: Taranganba State School
- 1:30pm – 2:30pm: St Benedict's Catholic Primary School
- 3:15pm – 4:15pm: St Anthony's School
Wednesday, September 15 – Mackay
- 4:00pm – 5:00pm: 5-8 years of age Clinic at Mackay JRL Fields, 2 Casey Ave
Thursday, September 16 – Mackay
- 10:00 – 10:30am: Beaconsfield State School
- 11:00 – 11:30am: Mercy College Mackay
- 12:00 – 1:00pm: Mackay North State High School
- 1:40 – 2:30pm: Mackay State High School
Friday, September 17 – Mackay
- 12:00 – 2:00pm: Steve Jackson Gala Day, Abbott Park Fields, Mackay
- 7:50pm: Semi Finals: Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters at BB Print Stadium, Mackay
Saturday, September 18 – Mackay
- 12:00 – 3:00pm: Paul Bowman Challenge, 333 Crystalbrook Rd, Proserpine
- 7:50pm: Semi Finals: Panthers v Parramatta Eels at BB Print Stadium, Mackay