Match: Cowboys v Storm
Round 12 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
FRIENDS & RIVALS
Fourteen years after their first NRL meeting, North Queensland Toyota Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston and Melbourne Storm stalwart Cameron Smith will lock horns for the final time – in the regular season at least – at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
Thurston and Smith have played countless big games against and alongside one another and their first meeting as 21-year-olds was no different.
Thurston's Bulldogs hosted Smith's Storm in a semi-final blockbuster at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2004, with a 21-year-old Thurston scoring two tries in a huge 43-18 victory.
More than 300 NRL games apiece later, Thurston and Smith will play their final regular season game against each other tonight.
Thurston's Cowboys come into the match on the back of a heartbreaking, but confidence-boosting one-point loss to the Rabbitohs in Round 11.
Michael Morgan's switch to fullback added a new dimension to the North Queensland attack with the Queensland State of Origin hopeful providing the final pass for two Antonio Winterstein tries.
Despite missing the opening two games of the season, Morgan sits seventh in the NRL with eight try assists in just nine appearances in 2018, while Thurston sits four places ahead in third with 10 try assists, just one behind competition leaders Luke Keary and Gareth Widdop.
Morgan and Thurston aren't the only two Cowboys among the NRL's statistical elite, with rampaging lock Jason Taumalolo again ranked as one of the competition's most destructive ball runners.
Taumalolo's 1802 running metres are the fifth highest in the competition, while his 740 post-contact metres trail only Bulldogs prop David Klemmer.
Cowboys head coach Paul Green has stuck firm with the host of changes he made for Round 11.
Aside from Morgan remaining in the No.1 jersey, Te Maire Martin has again been named at five-eighth, while young gun Enari Tuala and forward Francis Molo retain their spots on the interchange.
Melbourne arrive in Townsville on the back of arguably their worst performance of 2018, with Craig Bellamy's men belted 24-4 by Manly on their home turf in Round 11, although the Storm still sit sixth on the ladder with six wins and five losses for the season.
The Storm will receive a massive boost for their Cowboys clash with skipper Cameron Smith to return after missing the defeat to Manly through suspension, while prop Jesse Bromwich returns from a knee injury.
Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr has been in electric form in 2018. The 22-year-old leads the NRL with 12 tries in just 11 games, while his 11 line-breaks are also the most in the competition.
The Cowboys and Storm have already met once this season with Melbourne claiming a 30-14 victory in Round 3.