JT: It will haunt me for the rest of my life
IT is the moment that Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston admits will "haunt me for the rest of my life."
Now the most painful of wounds will be prised back open when Thurston comes face-to-face with his and North Queensland's grand-final nemesis, Tigers wizard Benji Marshall, this Thursday night.
In the ultimate 'back to the future' moment, Thurston and Marshall will square off at Leichhardt Oval - 13 years after the pair traded tactical blows in the 2005 NRL grand final at Homebush.
Thurston hasn't forgotten Benji's magic act in one of the biggest games of their careers, THAT sublime flick pass which inspired the Wests Tigers' fairytale 30-16 premiership defeat of the Cowboys.
At the time, Thurston was a 22-year-old who steered the Cowboys to their maiden grand final in his first season in Townsville.
Marshall was a 20-year-old in just his third season of NRL.
Thurston never imagined he would see Marshall in black-and-gold again, but the former Kiwi skipper's return to the Tigers this season has put the pair on a collision course - and picked at some psychological scars.
"It will haunt me for the rest of my life," said Thurston with his trademark laugh as he prepares for what shapes as his final clash with Marshall.
"That grand final wasn't great for us.
"When you lose a grand final, it haunts you for the rest of your life. That will never change for me."
The 35-year-old Thurston, who will retire at season's end, is in awe of Marshall's ability to reinvent himself in his second coming at the Tigers.
Now 33, Marshall was on the brink of retirement two years ago when he was thrown a lifeline by Broncos coach Wayne Bennett. His 12-month stint at Red Hill helped Marshall recapture the passion that has underpinned his form burst under Tigers coach Ivan Cleary.
"He is playing outstanding football," Thurston said of Marshall. "He is playing with more control and more composure.
"You need that when you have young blokes around you. The Tigers have a team that competes for everything. They don't go away. They defend extremely well, they put pressure on you with their defence and playing off the back of that.
"We have competed against each other a lot and he is back at his home at the Tigers.
"These are the challenges you look forward to - coming up against the best players in the world and the quality of those players.
"It will be a big test for us. Benji is playing some good footy."
The Cowboys have opted to spend the week in Sydney in a mini-camp following last Friday night's 26-20 defeat of Penrith in Bathurst.
"It could be a blessing in disguise being away," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"We can spend some good time together as a group and assess where we are at."