Bulldogs faithful buoyed by Thurston's Belmore return
North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston may have led the Cowboys to a 24-16 win at Belmore Sportsground on Thursday night, but that didn't deter the Bulldogs' faithful from cheering on one of their 2004 grand final heroes.
Thurston spent the first 29 games of his NRL career at the Bulldogs which culminated in the now Queensland Origin and Kangaroos legend winning the 2004 grand final as a late inclusion for then injured skipper Steve Price.
It's fair to say Bulldogs fans never forgot his contribution, nor his act of generosity when he gave his premiership ring to Price at the conclusion of the club's win over the Sydney Roosters 12 years ago.
That was on show when a host of Bulldogs admirers watched on as Thurston and Cowboys coach Paul Green discussed their eight-point win with the media.
Upon the press conference's conclusion, Thurston jokingly asked the fans: "Are there any questions from the back?" To which they responded with cheers and laughter, one man even yelling "I love you, Johnno".
On his return to Belmore, Thurston admitted his nerves over returning to his ex-club's spiritual home.
"I've always been grateful of the fact that the Dogs gave me an opportunity when no other club would. I've always been very mindful of that," he said.
"I played a fair bit of reserve grade and Flegg here and won a premiership with the first grade side so I have a lot of good memories from being here.
"It was enjoyable. I was a little bit nervous. But I loved coming back," he added, on the occasion.
"They showed me plenty of love so it wasn't too bad. It's good to be back and it was good to get the two points."
Thurston flexed his muscles with a vintage play early on in the second half. A show-and-go from the 33-year-old baffled Bulldogs defenders Danny Fualalo and Tony Williams and led to Cowboys back-rower Ethan Lowe's second try of the game.
While Bulldogs fans were happy to see Thurston return, Canterbury skipper James Graham didn't share their enthusiasm.
Graham said all the preparation in the world wouldn't stop Thurston from doing what he does best.
"We tried to nullify him but sometimes it's easier said than done. That's why he's the standard of player he is. Thurston's game is so lethal and so damaging," Graham said.
"You can do all the preview work you can going into a big game like this and say what Johnathan Thurston is going to do.
"But the week before, the week before that and the week before that; and the year before that, and the year before that as well every coach would've said the same thing.
"Quality players find another way to get through. He constantly competes and that's why he's the player he is."
Thurston, with his trademark smile, would have the last laugh.
"Attacking T-Rex's right shoulder, he could've really hurt me there," he said.
"But I made it through the line so the old legs still have it."