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It was the question on everyone's lips once the full-time siren sounded at ANZ Stadium after the Toyota Cowboys stunned the Eels 24-16 to book a spot in next week's preliminary final against the Roosters: will Johnathan Thurston play? 

Unfortunately for North Queensland fans, the star playmaker revealed to in the sheds that he was no chance of making a miraculous return from a shoulder injury in the grand final qualifier. 

"Zero chance of me making a return," he said. 

"I'll just ride the wave with the boys."

Thurston hasn't played since he landed a sideline conversion to guide the Maroons to victory in Game Two of this year's State of Origin series, with a serious shoulder injury ending his 2017 season and ruling him out of the end-of-year World Cup. 

It was a cruel blow for the Cowboys who were already without influential prop Matt Scott who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Broncos in Round 2. 

The general consensus was that Paul Green's men would fade away into obscurity as the genuine finals contenders fought it out for September glory. 

Now there are just four teams left, and most importantly, the Cowboys are one of them.  

Thurston has watched on from the coach's box as his teammates have defied the critics week in, week out in 2017, and their latest effort against the Eels typifies what has been a remarkable year that has given new meaning to the word 'brave'.  

Led by Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys are one win away from their second grand final in three years, and while nothing can top Thurston's fairytale field goal in golden point in 2015, the Immortal-in-waiting believes the current crop of Cowboys are on the verge of creating their own slice of history. 

"I thought last week was the best win that we've had as a club in a while given the adversity that we'd faced, but tonight, I just don't have any words to describe how proud of them I am," he said. 

"The GF is obviously the pinnacle for the club, but honestly, these boys just keep turning up for each other. It's little moments where they're doing big things that just amazes me.

"I see it firsthand at training during the week so none of this surprises me. It's good because we're in our own little bubble up there so we just bunker down and get on with what we have to do. That's been evident throughout the year and now we're one win away from the grand final.

"We've got a tough game against the Roosters and they'll be tough to beat because they've got strike across the park and players who know how to win big games. 

"They'll be confident – and so they should – but there's no reason why we can't get the job done again."

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Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.