Retired North Queensland Cowboys player Johnathan Thurston ahead of his speaking tour around Australia. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Retired North Queensland Cowboys player Johnathan Thurston ahead of his speaking tour around Australia. Picture: Zak Simmonds

New-look Cowboys can bounce back: JT

RETIRED Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston is adamant the "new blood" can help them return as a premiership force next year as the club undergoes a roster rebuild.

Up to ten players will not return to the club in 2019 as the Cowboys look to bounce back from a disappointing 13th place finish, headlined by premiership heroes Thurston, Antonio Winterstein (retired), Kane Linnett (released) and Lachlan Coote (St Helens).

The Cowboys have already put a portion of that salary cap space to good use by signing former Dally M medallist Ben Barba on a one year deal to replace Coote at fullback.

Barba joined English Super League club St Helens after testing positive to cocaine in the aftermath of Cronulla's drought-breaking premiership in 2016.

But Thurston says the 29-year-old's ball-playing ability out the back will take significant pressure off star half Michael Morgan, who missed the back end of the year through injury.

Barba will be motivated to perform given the Cowboys are looking to lure Townsville product Valentine Holmes home from Cronulla in 2020 to play fullback.

"He's a game breaker. We've seen what he can do on the field and it's exciting for the club to have someone of his ability," Thurston said.

"It's massive now in the NRL, having a ball-playing fullback. They're basically a third or fourth playmaker, after your nine.

"We're seeing a lot more of them and being able to come up with the right decision at the right time to get points is crucial."

The Cowboys blooded a handful of youngsters in the back end of the year with half Jake Clifford, centre Enari Tuala and winger Gideon Gela-Mosby showing glimpses of their potential.

"There's a few players that have left and some have retired. It will certainly freshen the joint up, and with that you're able to bring some new blood through," Thurston said.

"People saw that this year with Gideon and Cliffo and Enari. No doubt those boys will be looking to build on what they achieved in the back end of last year and hopefully get off on the right foot next year.

"I think this year would have been a big learning curve for them, especially for Jake. The biggest thing coming into the team is handling the weekly grind of the NRL season."

The 35-year-old will embark on his 'An Evening With Johnathan Thurston' tour next month, which will embark on several metropolitan and regional centres across Australia and New Zealand, including Townsville on October 20.

"It's a massive thank you to the people who have supported me over the years, going to regional places and giving people an insight into my mind on what I was thinking at different times," he said.

"I feel as though people think they me extremely well because I'm in the public eye, but being able to talk to them about different teams I played on and why they were so successful will be fun."

For tickets to the show at the Townsville Convention and Entertainment Centre, visit