By Dean Ritchie
20 November 2015 - The Daily Telegraph
NORTH Queensland superstar Johnathan Thurston is headed back to Belmore -- but fear not Cowboys fans, it's not for more secret contract talks.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal Canterbury have asked NRL officials to schedule two games at Belmore next year -- against Canberra and the Cowboys -- which would mean Thurston returning to his first NRL home ground.
It will be 12 years next season since Thurston last played at Belmore, Canterbury's spiritual and famous home ground.
Thurston snuck back just once in that time for secret night-time contract talks with Des Hasler during the 2012 season.
Canterbury also plan to play a game in Wellington, New Zealand, next season and then nine home games at ANZ Stadium.
The NRL is yet to finalise the draw, which should be released in about a fortnight.
Both Belmore games will be sell-outs, especially if the NRL approves a game against the defending premiers.
Club requests may be easier to fulfil now that the NRL has regained control of the season draw from Channel 9.
"We have made the request about who we would like to play at Belmore ," Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle said. "Can berra and the Cowboys are the two we have requested.
"We think there is some real history and some stories to be told around why those teams will make good opponents for us at Belmore.
"These two teams were chosen because of the history element." Castle also spoke about her club's venture to Wellington, where the club hopes to play the New Zealand Warriors.
"We have identified Wellington as a market where the Bulldogs can have some impact," she said. "We can extend the Bulldogs' fan base.
"We are relatively landlocked at Canterbury-Bankstown, so it's important that we grow outside. It's a good option for us.
"The Bulldogs already have a significant New Zealand fan base but we would still like to grow that.
"We have watched with interest what Hawthorn have done with Tasmania and how they have adopted the Tasmanian market and tried to make it their own. Hopefully we could do that with Wellington." Meanwhile, Canberra yesterday started talks about re-signing damaging forward Josh Papalii, who is off contract after next season.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner met with Papalii's management and hopes to sign the Queensland forward until the end of 2018. Canberra have already secured Jack Wighton, Blake Austin and Shannon Boyd until the end of 2018.