The North Queensland Cowboys have pledged to make Johnathan Thurston a Cowboy for life amid speculation NRL rivals the Penrith Panthers are set to make a big-money play after on Monday granting a release to deposed skipper Luke Lewis.
Cowboys football manager Peter Parr and Thurston’s agent Sam Ayoub on Monday night expressed shock at rumours Lewis’ departure from the Panthers could pave the way for their coach Ivan Cleary to sign the Queensland Origin star for 2014.
Thurston is off contract at the end of next season and Lewis’s shock request for a formal release, which was approved on Monday, was viewed as a sign Penrith were clearing the decks to accommodate the Cowboys playmaker under the salary cap.
But the Cowboys insist Thurston is going nowhere and will step up talks on a new deal to tie up the Test star for the rest of his career when the code’s TV rights deal is formally brokered in the coming months.
Thurston will be 30 when his current Cowboys deal expires and would be the No.1 target on the open market at a time when representative-quality playmakers are a rare commodity.
The two-time Dally M medallist could fetch about $1 million a season as a free agent, but Ayoub on Monday night emphatically scuppered talk of Thurston defecting to any NRL rival, including Penrith.
“This is JT’s eighth season in North Queensland and he can’t be happier there.”