Johnathan Thurston back early for pre-season

Scott Bailey Roar Guru

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    Johnathan Thurston has returned to North Queensland’s pre-season training early as he stays on track for a milestone NRL round-one return from his shoulder surgery.

    Thurston, who hasn’t played since Queensland’s State of Origin II win in June, returned to the Cowboys’ gym on Wednesday, joining the club’s rookies and a select group in rehabilitation.

    The main squad isn’t due back till next week.

    Assuming he is fit, Thurston will play his injury-delayed 300th NRL game on March 9 against Cronulla in round one.

    The 34-year-old will focus solely on North Queensland in 2018, with the Queensland maestro having previously announced his retirement from representative football.

    His summer return will come as a big boost to the Cowboys, after they reached the 2017 grand final without co-captains Thurston and Matt Scott.

    They will also have most of their stars on board for the summer before other clubs.

    Their 2018 squad accounted for just four of the 115 front-line NRL players at this year’s World Cup.

    While other clubs will have as many as 13 players unavailable until January due to representative duties, the Cowboys will only be missing Jason Taumalolo, Michael Morgan, Te Maire Martin and recruit Jordan McLean.

    Despite their lengthy injury toll at the back end of 2017, only Shaun Fensom (leg), John Asiata (hand) and centre Kane Linnett (elbow) have required off-season surgery.