Premiership stars come out to play for Cowboys

Johnathan Thurston will  lead his premiership teammates into battle tonight. Photo: AAP Image.
Johnathan Thurston will lead his premiership teammates into battle tonight. Photo: AAP Image. Warren Lynam

NORTH Queensland will do something no defending premier has done in 35 years when it kicks off its season against Cronulla in Townsville tonight - use the same 17 players that won the grand final.

The Cowboys will be the first team to do that since 17-man squads were introduced in 1981.

It's an edge coach Paul Green hopes will get his side out of the barriers a lot quicker than last year when it dropped the opening three premiership games.

The Sydney Roosters came close to fielding their grand final- winning side in the first game of 2014, but had to make a late change when forward Luke O'Donnell retired. Brisbane also fielded 16 of its 17 grand final-winning players in its first game in 1999.

Green admits North Queensland and the Sharks, who have never won a premiership, are building quite a big rivalry after some great clashes in recent years.

The Sharks will head north knowing they beat the Cowboys twice during the regular season last year, and with a better squad following some key additions, most notably five-eighth James Maloney who has defected from the Roosters.

Cronulla, which holds a 23-15 head-to-head edge over North Queensland, was the side that ended the Cowboys' 11-game winning streak last season, and also eliminated them from the finals in 2013 after a "seventh tackle" try.

Maloney's defence, which was his weakness last season with more missed tackles than any other player, will be an area Johnathan Thurston will try and exploit, but this clash will come down to the big men in the middle with Sharks enforcer Paul Gallen and Cowboys wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo certain to lock horns.

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