TE Maire Martin expected to use a notebook and pen more than playing NRL this year.
On the outer with Penrith and in need of a change, Martin didn't think twice when his manager asked: "Would you like to go to North Queensland and learn under JT?"
When he touched down in Townsville in June he expected to be learning from the game's greatest playmaker this year, not deputising for him.
The 21-year-old exited the Panthers after it became clear they viewed skipper Matt Moylan as their long-term No.6.
Ironically Martin is playing his second final this weekend against Parramatta, while Moylan, on leave for personal issues, is not.
Thurston's season-ending shoulder injury was a massive blow, but Martin feels his shift north feels like fate as a result.
"It's unfortunate Johnno got injured (but) it was probably perfect timing when I came up," Martin said.
"Obviously you don't want someone like that to get injured but it opened up a good window for me to play and playing finals is something really special to me.
"They (Penrith) told me to go back and find some form, they ended up putting Matty Moylan there.
"They must have rang my manager and he said 'we can look somewhere else if you're keen, it might be tough for you to get back into the team'.
"He said 'would you be keen to go up to North Queensland and learn off JT?'. There was only one answer there."
Thurston still travels with the team, giving Martin the luxury of asking him for advice at half-time of games.
Martin has wasted little time winning over his new teammates by playing with a medial ligament injury heavily strapped for the past month.
"(The motivation was) just the opportunity to play first grade, you don't get too many chances," he said.
"In games you get that excited you don't feel that much of it. It gets stuck in a few ugly spots but you run it off after a while.
"I don't know how many shots I'll get next year with Johnno coming back, I was really excited and wanted to play.
"Obviously the injury to Johnno has been a big toll for the boys and it's been tough to handle, but it's opened the door for us younger boys to have a crack and learn."
Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote said Martin was showing tenacity beyond his years to play on, fully aware opposition forwards will target him.
"He's only 21 and the commitment he has to this team already, it astounds me," Coote said.
"Even with defence he's throwing his body in there. He's earned the respect straight away from his first game."
Like Martin, a fresh start has reinvigorated Eels playmaker Mitchell Moses since his midyear switch from Wests Tigers.
"Mitch has been playing some good footy since he went to Parra, his defence has got a lot better than it was," Martin said.
"I think he's really taken control of that team. We've got our job cut out for us, we have to limit his chances, and it starts with slowing down the forward pack."
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