How JT became leader of the Cowboys pack
HE will go down as arguably the best halfback of all time, but Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston never thought he'd wear the no. 7 jersey.
Recruited from the Bulldogs as a five-eighth, an ankle injury to first-choice halfback Chris Sheppard early in his first season in Townsville in 2005 paved the way for Thurston to move in closer to the action.
While Sheppard return to play a couple more games at halfback before moving to St George Illawarra midway through the year, Thurston began a journey which has entrenched him as an all-time great.
"I think he might have got injured in a game (round three against Warriors) and broke his ankle which was unfortunate for him, but it changed my career," Thurston said.
"I moved to halfback, and that was the position I stayed in.
"I always played six at the Dogs, they pushed (Braith) Anasta to lock and the Cowboys recruited me as a six.
"It was another challenge for me, and something I really enjoyed."
Thurston would go on to make his State of Origin debut at halfback in 2005 alongside Darren Lockyer, and won the first of four Dally M medals after steering the Cowboys to their maiden grand final against Wests Tigers.
"That (shift to halfback) made the transition to the representative arena (easier). If I was still playing six, there was no way I was going to be playing representative football with Locky there," Thurston said.
Thurston will be shooting for his 100th win at 1300SMILES Stadium in his home farewell against Parramatta tomorrow.
The Eels and Cowboys enter the match equal last and while avoiding the wooden spoon is motivation enough, sending Thurston out a winner is firmly on the players' minds.
Fellow co-captain Matt Scott will also become the third Cowboy and first forward to play 250 games for the club, while hooker Jake Granville will play his 100th game for North Queensland.
"I actually prefer it to be honest. I'm quite happy I can slip under the radar," Scott said.
"I don't like too much fuss about me. Personal milestones are great but it should be about the team and performing on the night.
"A player of JT's calibre, we've been extremely blessed to have him at the club.
"It's been 'do it for JT' all year really, but that hasn't really worked for us. I think we might have been caught up in it a bit.
"Obviously we're not where we want to be on the ladder, but everyone wants to send him out on a decent note with a couple of wins."
The Cowboys have endured a startling fall from grace this season and are looking to avoid becoming the first team since the grand final era began in 1954 to claim the wooden spoon 12 months after playing in a decider.
But Thurston is confident the club is in a position where they can turn things around immediately next year.
"We've got a really good playing group. (Team leaders) Michael Morgan, Matty Scott and Coops (Gavin Cooper) will be around," Thurston said.
"(Youngsters) Jake Clifford, Enara (Tuala), Gideon (Gela-Mosby) all these boys that have been on the cusp that have had a taste of first grade, they're the future of the club.
"With Jase (Taumalolo) there as well, the club's in safe hands.
"I thought long and hard about it (retirement) after the shoulder injury (which ended his season last year). The boys we've got coming through now, it's time for them to shine and take the club through the next chapter.
"I've been pretty content with my decision now for a long time, but I still have that drive to compete."