Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston.

Thurston still haunted by '05 nightmare

Thirteen years on and one moment still haunts Johnathan Thurston.

''It will for the rest of my life,'' he says with his trademark laugh.

Benji Marshall's flick pass to Pat Richards in the 2005 grand final is played in advertisements everywhere each year.

And Thurston - the only man left in the side that lost on that day - always looks away.

The Cowboys finally won a premiership in the end, but a decade-long wait and a roller-coaster journey to get there shows no player or team is guaranteed a Telstra Premiership title in their career.

''That grand final wasn't great for us,'' Thurston said.

''You lose a grand final and it haunts you for the rest of your life - that's never going to change.''

Thurston and Marshall will lock horns next Thursday in what could be the last meeting of their storied careers.

For Thurston, with a formidable career winding down, every game is a swansong.

''Obviously we've competed against each other a lot and he's back at his home now playing some good footy,'' the 35-year-old said.

''They're the challenges that you enjoy and look forward to coming up against the best players in the world.

Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston.
Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

''It's going to be another test for us and he's playing some outstanding footy, a lot more control and composure. That's what you need when you've got young blokes around you. They've got a team there that compete for everything and don't go away.''

A relieved Thurston spoke after North Queensland's 26-20 win over Penrith in Bathurst - a massive result for a team that hasn't handled the premiership favourite tag thus far.

Thurston didn't say he was worried about the situation. But with only two wins on the board prior to Friday's win, the farewell tour for the champion halfback was looking grim, not that he was out to make it about himself.

''I haven't exactly looked at the ladder but I thought [the win] was a step in the right direction for us,'' Thurston said.

''It's a massive relief getting the two points, it's been few and far between. The challenge for us now is to back that up and be better in the areas we need to be.

''I think we haven't been too far off in games, it's just been a couple of errors putting us under the pump. With the team we've got and standards that we drive, it was a step in the right direction.''

Thurston's combination with Michael Morgan has come under scrutiny to start the season.

For one reason or another the pair hasn't been able to click into gear. But they showed better signs of getting back to the usual continuity against Penrith.

After Morgan hit career-best form leading the Cowboys to last year's premiership decider, Thurston expects the representative period to spark the five-eighth back into form.

''I think for Morgo now it's about getting back to playing his best footy leading into the Origin series,'' he said.

''That's the thing about Origin, you can be going into that arena with not the best of confidence but once you put that jersey on it brings out the best in you."