SIREN SOUNDS ON JT’S ORIGIN S TORY
MATTY Bowen can still remember the skinny Bulldogs recruit rocking up to training in his beat- up hatchback, his cap on backwards and music blaring.
Back in late 2004 no one could predict the cheeky 21- year- old with a liking for a good time would develop into one of the greats. A four- time Dally M medallist, State of Origin and Kangaroos legend, and Cowboys premiership skipper.
In round 16 Thurston was due to play his 300th NRL game, and surpass Bowen as the most capped Cowboy of all time.
A shattering shoulder injury has put the milestone on ice until round one next year, while he will be watching tonight’s Origin blockbuster in Brisbane from the stands instead of bidding farewell to the game’s biggest stage the way he deserves.
In Thurston’s Origin debut in game one of 2005, Darren Lockyer is spotted reassuring his visibly nervous halves partner in the sheds before the game.
He needn’t have worried as the 22year- old gave us a glimpse of the magic that was to come, slotting a field goal to send the match into extra time.
Bowen’s famous intercept try off a Brett Kimmorley pass to win the game is part of Origin folklore but few, if anyone, have impacted the game’s biggest stage as much as Thurston.
It was Thurston’s first season as a Cowboy after the Bulldogs infamously let him slip from their grasp, and he also guided his new team to its first grand final appearance.
Thurston’s glittering Origin resume is unlikely to ever be surpassed. He played a record 36 straight games before injury halted the streak for Origin I. He’s collected five man of the match awards, a player of the series gong in 2008, scored more points ( 220) and kicked more goals ( 99) than anyone.
Bowen said it would have taken a brave man to predict that Thurston would develop into one of the greatest players of all time when he first fronted at the Cowboys.
“He was wild and had his moments but he was just a kid who came from the Dogs,” Bowen said before injury scuppered Thurston’s plans to break his Cowboys games record.
“He always had his head on backwards and music on, but over the years he found himself a wife, had two kids and settled down heaps.
“We used to tell stories to each other about clubs telling us we were too small, it made us train harder to prove them wrong,” Bowen said.
“JT’s known for that, he was always told he was too small and wasn’t going to make it, but look at what he’s done in the game.
“It teaches not just indigenous kids, but all kids, that you can never be told you’re too small or can’t do something.”
“Even off the field as well he always wants to win, you see that in any games he plays.
“We used to have a ping pong table at the club and he wouldn’t leave until he’s on top but if it doesn’t happen, he’s back at it again in the morning.
“It shows on the field how competitive he is, that’s why he’s become one of the best players to play the game.”
Former Cowboys skipper Paul Bowman sums up what makes Thurston tick perfectly.
“He’s so competitive in everything he does and won’t settle for anything less than his best, which is the best,” Bowman said.
“He takes it to the line every game and gets a lot of extra treatment. It’s a credit to his toughness, his mental toughness, his dedication.
“Every training session everyone waits 30 minutes for JT to finish off his extras but they’re not extras for him, it’s just what he does.
“That’s why he’s so good, he’s got that competitive edge and nature that no one’s going to get the better of him.
“Those young guys coming through ( at the Cowboys) are so lucky seeing the work he does. If you want to get to his level, that’s the sort of work you have to put in.”
Cowboys football manager Peter Parr has been at the club with Thurston every step of the way.
Parr and then Cowboys coach Graham Murray’s meeting with Thurston in Sydney back in 2004 is, after the 2015 grand final win, the most significant moment in club history.
Thurston agreed to join the Cowboys and although he has developed into an ornament of the game, on and off the field, Parr insists fame hasn’t changed him markedly.
“Graham and I knew he was talented, but when we met him at the restaurant in Coogee in 2004 it’s fair to say I wasn’t looking at him thinking he was going to be a four- time Dally M winner,”ner,” Parr said.
“We had a really good, experienced teamm and we thought Johnathan would be the he cream on top of all of that. I don’t’ t think anyone realised just how goodd he’d end up being. “In n lots of ways he hasn’t changed. He was very shy and very respectful
and he’d sit in frontt of you and lookk at the floor and fidget.
“He’s still very humble, still veryy respectful to everyone and he’s not as shy as he used to be, but he’s not as extroverted as some may think either.
“He’s got some wonderful qualitiesities as a person and he’s always had them. He’s always been about otherer people, he’s always been about the team, he’s always had a caring natureure which has never left him, and neverer will. “I’ve been privileged to watchch him grow as a player, but it’s beenn a privilege to watch him grow and mature, that’s been the best thing g for me.”