North Queensland Cowboys to play Penrith Panthers in Bathurst next May.

Champion rugby league player Johnathan Thurston will be the star player on show when his North Queensland Cowboys team travels south to tackle the Penrith Panthers in Bathurst on May 4, 2018.

STAR: Champion North Queensland Cowboy halfback Johnathan Thurston is set to play in Bathurst next year, against the Penrith Panthers. Photo: AAP

STAR: Champion North Queensland Cowboy halfback Johnathan Thurston is set to play in Bathurst next year, against the Penrith Panthers. Photo: AAP

The National Rugby League announced its 2018 draw on Thursday morning, with Carrington Park set to host a Friday night match on free-to-air channel Nine Network at 7.50pm. 

Games have also be penned in for other country areas across Australia including Mudgee, Tamworth, Gosford, Gladstone, Cairns and Toowoomba. 

Bathurst Panthers life member and NRL game development officer Dave Elvy said Thurston will be the headline act come next May.

“It doesn’t get much better than that. Fingers crossed he’ll play,” he said.

“It’s huge for the town to have the team that has played in two of the last three grand finals.

“If he doesn’t play I’m sure he’ll travel regardless. That’ll be huge news for the town and the area.”

Even if Thurston doesn’t play, the Cowboys team is still stacked with plenty of representative footy experience in the likes of Michael Morgan, Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo.

With a Friday night time slot, Elvy said it should be great exposure for Bathurst on free-to-air television.

“Being a Friday night, hopefully a great crowd can come along and enjoy the footy and relax for the weekend,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to see their stars, who otherwise can’t travel. I know plenty that can’t travel and see games.

“It would be great to see a big crowd, to see Carrington Park chockers.” 

While the main attention may be on Thurston and his representative teammates, Panthers will play their fifth game in a deal to play one game a season in Bathurst until 2028. 

Elvy said huge credit has to go to the Panthers who are committed to the Western Region.

“They’re here for another 11 years,” he said.

“Panthers do plenty of work in the region that goes unnoticed. They’ve invested massive time in the Western Region.

“Hopefully Panthers’ blueprint to bring games to country areas is something that other NRL teams pick up on.”

Panthers have plenty of their own representative stars including Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Josh Mansour, Trent Merrin, Matt Moylan and Dean Whare. 

Dubbo junior Isaah Yeo is set to play in the region he grew up playing in, alongside Wellington Cowboys junior Tyrone Peachey. 

Cowboys lost this year’s grand final to Melbourne Storm, while Panthers were knocked-out by Brisbane Broncos in the semi-finals.