Ben Barba is to return to the NRL at the end of the season, having agreed a deal with North Queensland.
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After finally putting pen to paper following protracted contract negotiations, North Queensland coach Paul Green is facing up to his greatest challenge yet – the post-Johnathan Thurston era.
Green is set to be become the Cowboys longest-serving NRL coach after signing a three-year contract extension on Monday which will take him through to the end of 2021.
After bringing a long-awaited premiership to Townsville in 2015 and taking the side to the grand final last year, he is now tasked with maintaining the Cowboys dynasty.
Green has taken North Queensland to the finals every year since the beginning of his tenure in 2014.
But with future Immortal Thurston set to hang up his boots at the end of 2018, he admits he has a new challenge ahead to oversee the changing of the guard.
“Whenever a club has a player such as such as JT go through that process, how you handle it can be challenging,” Green said.
“I am looking forward to it. We’re well placed to handle that.”
Green has made no secret of his desire for the Queensland State of Origin job and he’d been heavily linked with Brisbane amid speculation he was being eyed as Wayne Bennett’s successor.
However, he asserted he’d never had a formal offer from a rival club.
It was reported that the Cowboys and chairman Laurence Lancini had placed a deadline on Green’s contract offer, although the club denied that was the case.
“There’s never been an ultimatum,” Lancini said.
Heading into the season, the Cowboys were widely viewed as premiership favourites but have stumbled out of the blocks to be 1-5 and second last.
Green conceded the saga could have been a distraction for his players and was happy it had been put to bed.
“I don’t think so, the players might have a different opinion,” Green said, when asked if his contract wrangling had affected the side.
“I’ve been open and honest with them the whole way through and said if ever they had questions about where it’s heading, to come and see me.
“And none of them have.
“At times some of them might have asked questions, depending on what headlines you blokes (the media) trot out, but if it is a distraction, now it’s off the table.”