North Queensland’s NRL season, Queensland’s Origin decider preparations and Australia’s World Cup campaign have been thrown into disarray following reports Johnathan Thurston is set to miss the rest of 2017 due to shoulder surgery.
Since April 8, Thurston had played only in the Anzac Test and the Cowboys’ Round 14 win over Parramatta before lining up for the Maroons in Origin II due to leg and shoulder injuries.
He injured the shoulder again on Wednesday, but heroically played on and kicked the match-winning conversion from out wide in the dying minutes, a moment destined to go down in rugby league folklore alongside Clive Churchill’s sideline conversion with a broken arm that kick-started South Sydney’s ‘Miracle of ‘55’.
— 7 News Townsville (@7NewsTownsville) 23 June 2017
Johnathan Thurston out for season; reports. https://t.co/kwbHD23sxL
— Triple M NRL (@TripleM_NRL) 23 June 2017
But the upshot of the champion half’s courageous display is that his bid for fairytale farewells with the Maroons and Kangaroos this year have been shattered. The surgery Thurston will undergo typically takes six months to repair.
The Cowboys must now be regarded as rank outsiders to challenge for the premiership this year, despite recently acquiring Kiwi Test rep Te Maire Martin from Penrith. Martin, rookies Kyle Laybutt and Kalyn Ponga, first-choice fullback Lachlan Coote, and utilities Ray Thompson and Ben Hampton are the club’s fill-in options alongside Michael Morgan, who now becomes the Cowboys most important player.
Queensland will be feeling similarly forlorn, particularly with Thurston’s Game 1 replacement Anthony Milford also currently sidelined.
The Maroons aren’t short of options – which include promoting Morgan from the bench, recalling Daly Cherry-Evans, and handing Corey Norman, Ben Hunt, Cameron Munster or Ashley Taylor a debut – but Thurston’s importance to the side was emphasised as they recovered from a record home loss without him to pull off an unlikely series-saving win in Sydney despite effectively playing with one arm.
The dominant Kangaroos’ World Cup prospects are less bleak, with James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Matt Moylan or any of the aforementioned Queensland replacement contenders all capable of partnering Cooper Cronk in an Australian side miles ahead of the rest of the rugby league world.
But more importantly it’s a tragic end to one of the greatest rep careers in the history of the game, and one that deserved a pair of Suncorp Stadium send-offs.
END OF AN ERA
Johnathan Thurston’s season – and #Origin career – is all but over.
— NSW Blues 🔵 (@NSWRL) 23 June 2017
Johnathan Thurston’s record for Australia is 35-2-1 and I’m sorry, but that is just incredible. Sad his run in that team is over.
— Random Footy Facts (@footyfacts37) 23 June 2017
It will also be just the second time Thurston has failed to finish the NRL season since becoming a regular first-grader with the Bulldogs in 2004. The legendary playmaker is expected to retire from all football at the end of 2018, with his first appearance next season to be his 300th.