Johnathan Thurston joins in the contact during pre-season training.
Johnathan Thurston joins in the contact during pre-season training.

JT embraces the grind ahead of return

RUGBY LEAGUE: Even getting crunched in a tackle is a reason to smile for superstar Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston as he makes his return from a serious shoulder injury.

The Cowboys have been slogging it out in the Townsville humidity, but Thurston, who is expected to retire at season's end, has embraced the grind after more than seven months on the sidelines.

The 34-year-old was restricted to just seven games for the Cowboys last year with a niggling calf issue before he injured his shoulder while playing for Queensland in Origin II and required surgery.

He only resumed contact work after Christmas, but Thurston has impressed team mates with his recovery and he's certain to be back in action for their preseason grand final rematch with the Storm in Brisbane on February 23.

Thurston put his surgically-repaired shoulder through a tough contact session yesterday and utility Ben Hampton said the wily veteran looked like he'd never missed a game.

Johnathan Thurston will return from a shoulder injury in round 1. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Johnathan Thurston will return from a shoulder injury in round 1. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"He was loving it. He said 'how good's contact?' and everyone sort of looked at him funny, but he's going real good," Hampton said.

"He was running around there today and some of the things he does in training, it looks like he's never left.

"He's pulling people's pants down in attack and it's unreal to watch and unreal to learn off."

Thurston isn't the only Cowboy trying to make the most of the preseason with Hampton eager to lock down his first-grade spot in their opening trial match against the Tigers in Cairns on February 17.

Hampton has the inside running on the utility position after playing 23 of his 26 games off the bench last season, including North Queensland's incredible run to the grand final.

Johnathan Thurston stretches out at training.
Johnathan Thurston stretches out at training.

However, he faces some stiff competition with Josh Chudleigh making good progress after twice needing surgery on a ruptured ACL last year while midseason recruit Te Maire Martin has also put his hand up for the utility role after being squeezed out of the halves with Thurston's return.

Hampton has already received praise from Cowboys coach Paul Green for returning from the off-season break in excellent shape and the Mareeba product said his greatest motivation was doing what's best for the team.

"The sort of mindset I come in with is the better I can be the better the team will be and I think all the boys come in with that mindset," Hampton said.

"'Chuds' has been training well and obviously 'T' is a great player too. There'll be a bit of competition, but that's good. It makes you a better player and makes our team better as well.

"I'll just go out there and do what I've been told and do it to the best of my ability and do what the team needs from me. Hopefully the coaching staff see that and that's good enough."