BRISBANE - Superstar Johnathan Thurston has signed a new multi-million dollar four-year NRL deal which will see him play out his career with North Queensland.
But the game's No.1 player has followed the leads of the club's Test props Matt Scott and James Tamou and chosen loyalty over dollars, re-signing for much less than the $5 million deal reported over the weekend.
North Queensland officials confirmed Thurston's signing on Monday, 24 hours after the champion Queensland and Australian five-eighth set up all four of the Cowboys' tries in their impressive 24-12 win over last year's grand finalists Canterbury at Bluetongue Stadium.
The club has done an incredible job to retain its big three, Scott, Tamou and Thurston, who all could have made more money by leaving the Cowboys next season.
"It's a big relief. Obviously Johnathan means a lot to this club," said football boss Peter Parr at a news conference in Townsville on Monday afternoon.
"We're humbled he has taken less money to remain here.
"It means we've got one of the best players, if not the best player in the world for the next five years."
Thurston's new deal elevates him into the top echelon of Australia's best-paid rugby league players.
He will be at the Cowboys until the end of the 2017 season.
"My last contract was a tough decision, but nothing on this one," said Thurston of his latest deal.
"I'm delighted and relieved to get it out of the way so early in the season. I've got lifetime friends and best mates here and unfinished business.
"The last few weeks have been tough to come to this decision but it's the right decision for me."
Thurston was the target of lucrative offers from several clubs including his former NRL side Canterbury who held "secret" talks in the hope of getting him back to Belmore.
Penrith came closest to enticing the star playmaker to the foot of the mountains with a multi-million offer believed to have been much more than the Cowboys were able to muster to keep him.
In the end, Thurston wanted to stay with North Queensland who always had the inside running to retain the 29-year-old whose long-time partner, Samantha Lynch, is expecting their first child on June 5 — the same day as the opening State of Origin game in Sydney.
Thurston, who made his NRL debut for the Bulldogs against Penrith in 2002, has played 169 of his 198 games for the Cowboys since his first season with North Queensland in 2005 when they lost the grand final to Wests Tigers.