JT recalls most memorable on-field moment
ROCKHAMPTON footy fans could never have imagined what was to come for a young Johnathan Thurston when he took to Browne Park in the late 1990s.
The teenage version of the league legend made several appearances in the Beef Capital, playing for the QAS in a curtain-raiser to a Queensland Residents game in 1998 and then in the Confraternity Shield a year later.
While the now 35-year-old has only vague memories of those early games, he returns to the city next month, this time to provide a commentary on the incredible career that ensued.
The North Queensland Cowboys' champion halfback played his last game three weeks ago, a thrilling win over the Gold Coast providing the exclamation mark on a remarkable story that includes two NRL premierships, 38 Tests, 37 State of Origin appearances and four Dally M medals.
He bowed out widely regarded as the best to ever play the game and a certainty to be a future Immortal.
Thurston will turn the spotlight on his journey to greatness when he takes centre stage at Rockhampton's Pilbeam Theatre on Friday, October 19, as part of his speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking to The Morning Bulletin this week, he said he was excited about being able to reflect on and share the special moments of his life on and off the field.
"I'll be talking about my childhood, some of the great moments I've been part of, that grand final kick, my last ever State of Origin and the injuries I've had and how I've come back from them.
"I'll be talking about some of the great teams I've been a part of and why they were so successful.
"I have some incredible memories and I'll be talking about the highlights and why they stand out.
"To be able to travel the country and give people an insight into my life and the journey I've had is quite humbling and hopefully it can inspire a few people."
While Thurston agreed it was impossible to condense his extensive resume of achievements into just 120 minutes, there was one event that was always going to be included.
"The 2015 grand final," he declared without hesitation.
"Certainly on the rugby league field that one would be the most memorable.
"To be a part of the first-ever Cowboys premiership team is something I'm extremely proud of.
"That's what I was brought to the club to do. We had a crack in 2005 and we lost that and it wasn't for another 10 years that I was given another opportunity to win one.
"To be a part of it was massive and no one can take that away."
Thurston said it was only in the last couple of days it had started to sink in that his playing days were over.
"I've come to realise that's it now and the next chapter of my life is about to start.
"I'm feeling really good about it. I'm excited about what lies ahead - working with Channel 9 and still at the Cowboys in some capacity so I'm pumped."
He said family time would also be a priority, with he and wife Samantha expecting their fourth child in February.
"Fatherhood has changed me in every way possible," he said.
"We had a real tough time falling pregnant. We had one little miracle with Frankie, who is now five.
"We got another two in Charlie and Lillie and now we have another one on the way, so we are very blessed."
And there might also be more time for golf. He currently plays off a handicap of 11 and says he's not happy if he shoots anything over 90.
Thurston and his Cowboys were red-hot premiership favourites at the start of the year after a miraculous run to the grand final, against the odds, last year.
"The playing group the year before did an extremely outstanding job to make the grand final while everyone wrote the team off. It took a lot out of the guys mentally and physically," he said.
"This year we've had injuries and that certainly hasn't helped with the continuity of the team and we just haven't been able to replicate what we were the year before.
"Not all fairy tales come true, not that I was naive enough to think I was going to get the fairy tale, but certainly the amount of respect shown to me through the back end of the season, from opposing teams, is something I will never forget.
"That is something I will certainly cherish about this year."
Thurston said despite the Cowboys finishing 13th, their late-season form was solid and augured well for next year.
He is tipping Melbourne to win the premiership, and rates the skipper Cameron Smith as the most influential player in the game today.
"No one controls games like he does," he said.
Thurston won't be drawn when asked how he would like to be remembered in league circles.
"It's not for me to talk about," he said.
"I'm proud of what I've been able to achieve on the field but I think I've also changed the way footballers are perceived, heading out in my head gear and picking up the kicking tees, things like that."
After 323 games in the NRL, Thurston said he would most miss the locker room and leading the boys down the tunnel.
He said his mum and dad had had the biggest influence on his career, but league greats Mal Meninga and Darryn Lockyer had been and continued to be valued mentors.
Thurston, who has scaled incredible heights in his career, had some sage advice for anyone chasing a dream.
"I'd encourage anyone out there who wants to achieve their dreams, whether that's playing NRL or something else in life, to put the blinkers on and don't let anything get in your way.
"There's going to be people who try to bring you down and be a roadblock, but if you've got the blinkers on nothing can stop you."
- The Morning Bulletin is giving 10 lucky readers the chance to win a meet and greet for two including a professional photo and signed item of your choice while attending An Evening With Johnathan Thurston at the Pilbeam Theatre on Friday, October 19. To enter, visit themorningbulletin.com.au/competitions.
- Buy tickets at majoreventscompany.com/shows