He has done it all and then some in a career spanning over a decade, but North Queensland’s legendary captain Johnathan Thurston features in one of the great NRL Grand Final moments for all the wrong reasons.
The 2005 decider is heading toward halftime with the Wests Tigers and North Queensland locked in a seesawing battle. What happens next has been shown on highlight packages time and time again since.
It is the Pat Richards try that swung the decider in the Tigers’ favour, and it was all spawned from the brilliance of Benji Marshall. What is forgotten is the man who had the ball for the Cowboys only moments prior. A guy called Thurston who had just shovelled a kick down the field hoping to pin the Tigers deep at the northern end of the Olympic precinct.
Tigers fullback Brett Hodgson scoops it up and offloads to Marshall, who sees a gap between Matt Sing and the man who had just kicked away the ball, Johnathan Thurston. The desperate miss of Thurston lets Benji into the back field and the rest is history. For everything Thurston has achieved in the game, this is the last real memory of him we have on the biggest stage in club rugby league.
Exactly 12 months prior he was a fringe first grader riding the pine and he did score a premiership ring following an injury to Bulldogs skipper Steve Price; but being the legend Thurston is, he gifted that ring to the wounded captain immediately after the ceremony – a magnanimous gesture. We all know that wasn’t his team; it wasn’t really his time.
Since then, through all the State of Origin wins, Dally Ms and Australian jumpers, Thurston has never been able to climb the premiership mountain as leader. Through no fault of his own, everything has worked against him and his team.
If Thurston had already won a premiership, as “the man”, we would be talking about him on the same pedestal as Andrew Johns. Some might think he would have surpassed him with another premiership.
So here lies the challenge. The last of them for one of the greatest playmakers rugby league will ever produce.
“I’ve been asked that question (about my legacy) but I don’t really think about it. If that is how people want to judge me that is how they will judge me,” Thurston told The Courier Mail.
“I’ve only got three years after this so as a club we’d love to win a premiership before I finish.
“All I can do is do my best and that is what I try to do for the boys around me every time I play.
“No doubt I want to win a premiership, like everyone here, I am aware not all fairytales come true but with the coaching staff and the direction the club is heading in I think we can.
“I think we’re in a lot better place this time around than we have been the last couple of years, it gives me a lot of confidence going into the finals series.
“We’re a completely different side to what we were 12 months ago, 18 months ago even 24 months ago so that gives our club a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Nobody is blaming Thurston for the lack of premiership silverware in Townsville. It’s unfair to blame him because with all due respect to everyone that has ever played alongside him (including the mercurial Matt Bowen) nobody has been able to match the little pivot for hunger, talent or the drive to win.
For everything Thurston has given the game, the game is yet to finally give the Queenslander the last piece of the puzzle. And that is the Holy Grail because so many great players have spent their whole careers chasing a Grand Final. Just ask Nathan Hindmarsh or Andrew Ettingshausen.
Technically Thurston has a premiership. But there is no doubt that one in 2014 would mean so much more.
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