TE MAIRE Martin has become Johnathan Thurston’s project player and the bargain buy of the season with the Cowboys snaring the boom five-eighth for just $50,000.
While Martin’s scrumbase rival Anthony Milford recently signed a $1 million deal with the Broncos, the Cowboys have kept their season alive by brokering the ultimate cut-price contract.
Martin arrived in Townsville in mid-June, just seven days before the crushing revelation that Thurston, North Queensland’s most important player, required season-ending shoulder surgery.
With Martin on the outer at Penrith, Panthers supremo Phil Gould agreed to sign off on a contract subsidy that enabled the 21-year-old to rebuild his career at the Cowboys.
To complete the transfer, the Cowboys only had to provide a minor investment of $50,000 and the club’s shrewd spending has been vindicated by Martin’s sizzling form filling the Thurston void.
“ ‘Jonno’ (Thurston) does some great mentoring with me,” Martin said. “He sees a lot of stuff that most people don’t and at halftime, he will come down and give me advice in the sheds.
“He talks to me about attacking shapes and where the fullback might be, he really helps me out with my game and it’s been awesome. JT helps me out probably more at games than he does at training, so I really appreciate it.
“I expected to see the year out at Penrith, but they had different plans and I was really honoured to hear the Cowboys wanted me up here.
“Even if JT didn’t get injured, I figured I could still play in the Queensland Cup while training with the best player in the world.
“As it turned out, I’m playing NRL and getting to learn from Johnathan Thurston, so it couldn’t have been a better move for me.”
The Thurston influence is paying dividends.
Last week, Martin scored a try and produced two slick dummies, including the type of show-and-go that Thurston famously produced to steer Australia to Tri Nations glory way back in 2006.
The Martin purchase was effectively two years in the making.
Cowboys recruitment chief Peter Parr, who poached Thurston from the Bulldogs in 2004 for $220,000, first identified Martin in the Wests Tigers under-20s.
“In 2015, he was going really well at the Tigers,” Parr said. “Jonno had given every indication 2017 might be his last year so we talked to Te Maire about coming here (for the 2016 season) with a view to he and Michael Morgan being our long-time halves.
“Jonno then said he wanted to play in 2018, so Te Maire didn’t want to wait that long and felt he could advance himself a bit quicker at Penrith.
“When the opportunity came around again to sign him, my opinion of him hadn’t changed.
“It would be unfair to compare anyone to Johnathan, but Te Maire has all the attributes of a long-term NRL player. We feel he can carve out a great career and hopefully that career will be at the Cowboys.”
North Queensland coach Paul Green lauded Martin’s toughness and willingness to straighten the attack.
“I have nothing but wraps for him,” he said. “He came here with an opportunity and has worked hard.
“He is a sponge when it comes to footy, I’m really pleased for him. He is playing pretty tough too. His knee isn’t 100 per cent, and typical of the team in the last six weeks, he is fronting up each week when he has an excuse not to play.
“He keeps turning up and competing. He has been really impressive since he has come to the club.”