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Nth Qld hooker celebrates 200th NRL game

Flying under the radar is usually Aaron Payne's style - but the North Queensland NRL hooker is timing it just right to start lapping up the limelight.
Nth Qld hooker celebrates 200th NRL game
by NRL

EDS: Reissuing to fix typo in headline

By Laine Clark

BRISBANE, April 7 AAP - Flying under the radar is usually Aaron Payne's style - but the North Queensland NRL hooker is timing it just right to start lapping up the limelight.

Payne will have no choice but to soak up the spotlight when he becomes just the third Cowboys player to break the 200-game barrier on Sunday night against Melbourne at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

The honour ensures Cowboys life membership for the hard-working rake.

But he looks set to be celebrating much more if he continues his barnstorming NRL season start.

Cowboys coach Neil Henry admitted it would be hard to knock back the 29-year-old for a contract extension after his early 2012 heroics.

After agreeing to a one-year extension last season, Payne has started all five games to date and will again run out for the Cowboys on Sunday night in what looks set to be an absorbing duel with Cameron Smith.

"His form so far has been fantastic and, in conjunction with (bench rake) James Segeyaro, I think we have got the ruck covered there," Henry said.

"It's been a great career so far and it is unfinished.

"We are still in this season and Aaron has always said he wants to maintain his form and see where it takes him.

"When organising a one-year contract (extension), Aaron said 'I will see how I go'.

"He has been around for a while now and, if he is playing good football, enjoying myself and the body is holding up, why not keep playing football?"

Ten years after his first-grade debut, Payne will join former skipper Paul Bowman (203) and current teammate Matt Bowen (230) in the elite club.

All three players hail from north Queensland but Payne becomes the first from the Cowboys' Townsville base.

"It is a fantastic achievement for Aaron," Henry said.

"Eleven seasons on, it is remarkable these days to get to play that much football - especially being a forward and not a big man.

"It's a testament to his durability."

The Cowboys will also celebrate co-captain Johnathan Thurston's 150th game in North Queensland colours.

Thurston will again be the key against an unbeaten Storm outfit that would still be smarting from their last visit up north - a shock 34-6 loss to North Queensland in round three last year.

However, Melbourne will be backing themselves after Billy Slater was cleared for the Townsville clash.

Slater - who has scored nine tries in five games this season - was this week sighted wearing a moon boot after complaining of foot tendinitis.

"They are definitely the benchmark team of the competition," Cowboys forward Tariq Sims said.

"It's going to be a good test for our forwards.

"They've got some big boys with Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith sneaking around the middle there."




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