Johnathan Thurston will play his last home game for the Cowboys against the Eels.
Johnathan Thurston will play his last home game for the Cowboys against the Eels.

Cowboys coach pays tribute to ultimate competitor Thurston

PAUL Green has paid tribute to Johnathan Thurston's role in his coaching success at the Cowboys, describing the retiring champion as the type of player he loves to coach.

Thurston was already a two-time Dally M Medallist and two-time Golden Boot winner when Green arrived in Townsville for his first NRL head coaching gig in 2014.

Green had led Wynnum Manly to back-to-back Queensland Cup titles and was an assistant at the Roosters in their NRL premiership season in 2013, but it could have been intimidating for the rookie coach to manage a superstar like Thurston.

However, Green said he and Thurston had built a strong rapport from the very beginning, culminating in North Queensland's maiden title in just his second season at the helm.

"I didn't find it that way (intimidating). I think probably because his attitude made it a lot easier for me as well. He was pretty supportive from the start," Green said.

"He's got a lot of the attributes that you want to see in your players. He's a great competitor, he backs himself, and he cares a lot about the team too.

"He was certainly very supportive as a rookie coach for me so it made it easier for me to implement what I wanted to having guys like him and Matt Scott."

The Cowboys have made a late change for Thurston's final home game against the Parramatta Eels tonight, with fullback Te Maire Martin ruled out due to an ankle injury.

Utility Ben Hampton shifts to the fullback role with forward Ethan Lowe earning a reprieve on the bench.

Hampton grew up just a few hours north in Mareeba and he said it would be a special moment to be part of Thurston's final match in front of his adoring home fans.

"You always seem to remember those games and you always want to do your best on the field for those guys because you know that they'd do it for you," Hampton said.

Hampton only joined the Cowboys from the Storm last season, but he said Thurston's professionalism and composure under pressure had already rubbed off on his own game.

"On the field, he's a guy we look for and just how cool and calm he holds himself. It's something I need to work on in my own game," Hampton said.

"I get pretty fired up and let things get to me a little bit on the field, but that's one thing that I'll take from 'JT' and try and bring into my game."