Cowboys keen to break Tiger hoodoo
IT'S possibly the easiest question Johnathan Thurston's ever been asked. "What is the hardest field to play at?"
"Probably Leichhardt. Even the 12-year-olds spray me there," the Cowboys champion answered at a season eve NRL promotion.
The exchange, playfully posted on the Tigers' Twitter account this week, was followed by his trademark cackling chuckle. But his career winless record at Leichhardt Oval before tonight's clash is no laughing matter.
Thurston has never beaten the Tigers at Leichhardt in five career games there. In fact, he's never beaten the boys in black and orange in Sydney in 12 attempts.
The Cowboys haven't won at the Tigers' spiritual home since round 12, 2000, their sole victory in nine matches there an 18-8 win.
Ironically Tim Brasher was the Cowboys' skipper that day, while current head coach Paul Green steered the team around at halfback.
The Cowboys beat the Tigers at Campbelltown in round 25 last year without an injured Thurston, which ultimately sealed a finals berth, but Leichhardt has been their kryptonite.
They even trained there in the week leading up to last year's grand final defeat to Melbourne.
"It's not one of the best grounds to play at," said Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt said.
"It's very vocal, it's enjoyable, but as an opposition it's not very good to be there."
Cowboys centre Ben Hampton said lifting for Thurston after their slow start to his swansong season has been in the back of the players' minds.
"It's always been there with everyone. We haven't really spoken about it too much to be honest, because it's hard to play on emotion every single week," Hampton said.
"It's definitely something that I think about a fair bit and I'm sure the whole squad is exactly the same.
"You do feel like with everything he's done for that club, it does kind of feel like you're letting him down a little bit.
"Hopefully we can find some form after last week and build on that."
Thurston admitted this week that the 2005 grand final loss to a Benji Marshall-inspired Tigers would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Marshall's infamous flick pass to Pat Richards late in the match set up the try which condemned the Cowboys to defeat in Thurston's first year in Townsville.
The pair will lock horns again tonight, which will add a nostalgic feel to a match the Cowboys (3-6) must win to gather some much-needed momentum after last week's win over Penrith.
Thurston's halves partner, Michael Morgan, can still remember being "very cut" watching the grand final as a Townsville schoolboy.
"I was devastated by the result for a week afterward, but it's incredible JT and Benji are still doing battle with each other at the top level 13 years on," he said.
COWBOYS RECORD AT LEICHHARDT
Played: 9 Won: 1 Lost: 8
Rd 18, 1998: Tigers 18 beat Cowboys 0
Rd 3, 1999: Tigers 26 beat Cowboys 18
Rd 12, 2000: Cowboys 18 beat Tigers 8
Rd 19, 2001: Tigers 20 beat Cowboys 18
Rd 20, 2007: Tigers 54 beat Cowboys 10
Rd 19, 2009: Tigers 34 beat Cowboys 14
Rd 19, 2010: Tigers 26 beat Cowboys 16
Rd 11, 2013: Tigers 22 beat Cowboys 20
Rd 22, 2016: Tigers 26 beat Cowboys 14
Points for: 128 Points against: 234