Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JON TUXWORTH jonathon. tuxworth@ news. com. au

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.”

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