JT's last game: Fitting farewell for a humble great
WHILE a fuss was being made over Johnathan Thurston, the man they call JT went about his business with a minimum of it.
Always team first, humble, even shy, it's never been all about him. He wasn't about to begin on the final act of his glittering career.
Few players can sell out a rival club's home ground. But it felt like 1300 SMILES Stadium has been plucked out of Townsville and dumped into the middle of Robina. It was the first Titans sellout in club history, but their fans were drowned out by the hordes of Cowboys fans.
Fittingly, it was one last piece of brilliance, a pinpoint cross field kick for the winning try, which ensured the final game of his career was a 30-26 victory.
Although it was his swan song Thurston refused to cut corners, the unerring quality which has made him into an all-time great.
Through warm-up he meticulously practised his goal kicking from different spots, like it was any other match.
But mere mortals can't sell out an opponent's home ground for the first time in club history in the final round, especially when both teams won't play semis.
Thurston's teammates ran out in cardboard headgear, before emulating the JT trademark which has endeared him to so many by handing them out to youngsters in the crowd.
The man of the moment then made his entrance, his three daughters Frankie, Lillie and Charlie, wife Sam and parents Graham and Debbie in tow. The Guns and Roses hit 'Welcome To The Jungle' belted out over the speakers.
"I'm very grateful the Titans allowed me to do that. Walk out with my three girls, see my mum and dad, my wife Samantha and Smithy (Cameron Smith). They've probably been the most influential (people) in my life, that's why I wanted them there."
A standing ovation was organised in the seventh minute to celebrate the jersey number 'JT' has made famous, but it was spoiled somewhat when Titans youngster AJ Brimson chose that moment to score the opening try.
Midway through the first half Thurston, as he has done his entire career, bravely put himself in harm's way to pull off a try-saving tackle on Titans back rower Kevin Proctor.
Soon after, he forced an error from Titans big man Ryan James with an inspirational hit.
At the time his team was down 12-0 and in dire need of a lift. Soon after, Shaun Fensom scored in his final game for the Cowboys to reduce the gap to 12-6.
Thurston is certainly more renowned for his skill than his defence. But the good leaders find a way to life their team.
"Where's that been?", Cowboys coach Paul Green quipped when Thurston was asked about the hits.
"What, the last 17 years,?" Thurston shot back.
"Unfortunately for Ryan, he'll be on my highlights package."
In the second half Thurston ran back onto the field, high filing a junior team sporting the cardboard headgears, looking to erase an 18-6 deficit.
His cross field kick in the 44th minute produced a Ben Hampton try, and 'JT' unleashed a trademark, curling strike from the left sideline to get his team within six.
It may have been the Titans' first home sellout crowd in club history, but the stands, which included his great mate Cameron Smith, were dominated by Cowboys fans.
They booed Titans halfback Ashley Taylor as he lined up a successful penalty attempt to give his team a 20-12 advantage after 48 minutes.
Chants of "Cowboys, Cowboys" emanated from the crowd after Hampton's second try got the Cowboys back into the game at 20-18.
Then Thurston pulled his team out of the fire, one last time. His cross field kick set up a try for Gavin Cooper, with whom he has enjoyed a potent combination with for years.
The Titans decided to adlib in the first half, refusing to stick to the script. Like the outcast who invites themselves, Gold Coast looked like they would spoil JT's party.
Thurston ends his career with two premierships, four Dally M medals, three Golden Boots, 38 Tests, 37 Origins and 323 games, 294 of them for his beloved Cowboys.
The Cowboys have now finished a disappointing campaign which yielded just eight wins, but it will hardly tarnish Thurston's legacy.
Thurston was asked if he was worried at halftime, his team 12 points down, that his last game wouldn't be a win.
"Nah, I don't think like that," Thurston said.
"It's that mentality which made him a champion.