North Queensland Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston has revealed the role he has been playing with his old side as they attempt to climb back up the ladder in 2022.
Having retired at the cessation of the 2018 season, Thurston had previously kept his distance from the club's Townsville headquarters. However, upon the behest of head coach Todd Payten, the playmaking wizard has been brought back to the Cowboys' fold.
As reported by The Courier Mail, Thurston has been working with North Queensland's halves - Chad Townsend, Tom Dearden and Scott Drinkwater - in an effort to see the Cowboys jump back into the eight for the first time since his retirement.
While Thurston is only employed in a consultancy role that sees him on the training track once a week, the greatest name in the club's history has been told that he has "free rein" to pull any levers he sees fit.
“It’s a really young group and Toddy [Payten] pretty much gave me free rein. He wants me to concentrate on the halves, but he said, ‘If you see anything on the field at training, don’t be afraid to pull anyone up’," Thurston divulged.
“The players have really welcomed me on board which is great.”
Confirming the 38-year-old's all-encompassing role, Payten also explained that his young charges were in awe of the 323-gamer's "aura".
“It’s great having him around,” the second-year steward stated.
“'JT' has taken some ownership around our halves, just developing relationships and looking at our game management. He also looks at our kicking and some technical stuff around cues for our halves, basically when to play and when not to play.
“I see the look in the players’ eyes when he comes and talks. He has that aura about him. Tommy Dearden and Scotty Drinkwater just idolise him and I encourage him to talk as much as he can, whether it’s in meetings or on the field.
“I want him to interrupt and say what he thinks because it’s so valuable. He has offered us some pearls of wisdom already.”
While Thurston's return has been enough to buoy the mood of a group that finished last season with just seven wins and 17 losses, the catalyst of the excitement expressed that he wasn't enamoured by many of the roster's early efforts.
“I must admit I was a little worried before Christmas with how training was going, but since the full squad returned, it’s been chalk and cheese," the 37-time Origin representative said.
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“Whenever I go to training, I leave with a smile on my face optimistic about the season ahead and the work they have put in."
Although the fan-favourite's smile and Kookaburra cackle were ubiquitous during his 14-seasons as a Cowboy, Thurston went on to reveal just why a side that finished second to last on the table had him beaming this summer.
“Speaking to the players about what the coaches have put them through in pre-season, it has been tough, but that conditioning gives you confidence that no matter what is getting thrown at you on the field, you can stay in the fight and make the last-ditch tackle and be there for your mate.
“That’s been the message of the pre-season and I think it will show on the field this year.
“I’m confident about the season ahead. I think this group are mentally stronger to perform at a high level.”
Despite the vast majority of punters and pundits holding the view that North Queensland will, once again, miss out on the September action, the expansion franchise will be granted a sound opportunity to start their 28th campaign when they face the Canterbury in Round 1.
Kick-off in the battle between last season's cellar dwellers is scheduled for Sunday, March 13 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.