Cowboys Jonathan Thurston Photo Michaela Harlow / Daily Mercury
Cowboys Jonathan Thurston Photo Michaela Harlow / Daily Mercury Michaela Harlow

Is Thurston one of the NRL greats?

HE IS known simply as "JT", and he is an immortal in waiting.

When former and current greats and so-called experts start comparing you to "The King", or debating whether you are even better than Wally Lewis, you know you will be remembered as one of the game's best.

Not for the first time, champion North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston is being compared to some of the finest rugby league players to have laced on a boot - Wally Lewis, Arthur Beetson and Bob Fulton - to name just a few.

After guiding North Queensland into only its second grand final in its 20th anniversary year, and then being crowned the Dally M Player of the Year for a record fourth time, Thurston can cap off his finest season on Sunday by delivering the Cowboys and their fans a special moment in the club's history.

Thurston's deeds not only for the Cowboys, but also for Queensland and Australia in recent years, have again sparked debate about his place among the game's all-time greats.

One man who is eminently qualified to comment is the King himself, Wally Lewis, for so long the player others are measured against.

"JT's on-field performances guarantee he'll be remembered as a great footballer," says Lewis, one of only eight rugby league immortals.



Widely considered Queensland finest player of all time, Lewis said he regarded it as "an honour" to have players continually compared to him.

He also said apart from Thurston's great talent, he was also a fierce competitor.

"JT plays just as hard when his team is leading 30-2 as when they are down 30-2," he told APN.

But how does Lewis think he would have gone wearing the No.6 outside Thurston?

"That's a great question. It would have been nice, I imagine a thrill to play outside him," he said.

Lewis would certainly not be surprised if Thurston joined him in the exclusive Immortals club which includes Clive Churchill (1981 inductee), Bob Fulton (1981), Reg Gasnier (1981), Johnny Raper (1981) Graeme Langlands (1999), Arthur Beetson (2002) - the first indigenous player to captain Australia - and the last player inducted, Newcastle half Andrew Johns (2012).

"There are lots of wonderful players in our game, but I would think if JT's name was not on the table when the selection panel got down to the last two or three players next time, I reckon you'd have to change the judges," he said.

While Lewis didn't have the chance to play with Thurston, he said he was blessed to have played with and against a legend like Beetson.

He laughed when recalling the first time he came up against big Artie, whose pie-eating skills were as legendary as his ball playing.

"I'd seen good defenders go to tackle Artie, but the ball always came out somehow," Lewis said.

"I remember I went in for a tackle once - I was determined to lock him up. I remember thinking it felt pretty good until I looked up and Artie had slipped the ball away to a support runner."

Record-breaking Queensland Origin coach Mal Meninga, who some believe should already be an immortal, said Thurston was unquestionably up with the game's very best..

"Wally (Lewis) is the best player I ever played with or against, but JT is certainly up there," says Meninga, who with three premierships with Canberra, 32 games for Queensland, 46 Tests for Australia and a record eight straight Origin series wins as a coach with the Maroons, boasts a rugby league resume few can match.

"They're all on the same pedestal but they're all different players in their own rights who all made different contributions to their teams.

"They'll all tell you they played in really good footy teams with great people around them."

Many things make Thurston the special person he is and not just on the field, but also off it the way he treats young children and his fans..

On the field he competes on every play. He never quits. He is incredibly tough and takes a lot of punishment when he ventures deep into the defensive line.

His trademark play is his "show and go" which players are still falling for.

Thurston's journey began as a junior with Souths Sunnybank before moving to St Mary's College in Toowoomba because his mother was concerned about him getting involved with street gangs in Brisbane.

He snared a scholarship when he was 12 from the now-defunct South Queensland Crushers, but ended up at the Bulldogs when he was 18 because they promised his mother they would take good care of him. A skinny kid, he always showed a lot of talent.

He played every game for Canterbury in 2004, before being called into the Dogs grand final side after captain Steve Price failed to overcome a knee injury.

Thurston wore the No.18 jumper and played off the bench in the 16-13 win over the Sydney Roosters.

He offered Price his grand final premiership ring after the game, which the skipper turned down.

His remarkable journey will be complete on Sunday if he can lead North Queensland to a maiden NRL premiership against a Brisbane Broncos side chasing its seventh title.



Name: Johnathan Thurston

Age: 32

Games: Bulldogs 29, Cowboys 238, Queensland 33, Australia 32

Dally M player of the year awards: Four

Golden Boot awards: Two

Most points in State of Origin: 200

Origin man of the match awards: Five

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