Does Thurston Need His Premiership?
Johnathan Thurston is unequivocally one of the best rugby league footballers of his time. A dual Golden Boot winner, two-time Dally M medallist, and a permanent fixture in every representative team since 2006, Thurston’s record largely speaks for itself. Yet, there is one nagging doubt raised every time he is mentioned amongst the greatest of all time – he hasn’t won a premiership.
Thurston has, of course, technically been a part of a premiership winning team – with the Bulldogs in 2004. However, playing off the bench behind established halves, Braith Anasta and Brent Sherwin, Thurston’s influence was minor. Already a well-oiled unit, the Bulldogs would have won the Grand Final with or without JT.
The point is that being part of a premiership side and leading a premiership side are two completely different things. Brad Fittler, another modern great, had success with the Penrith Panthers in the early part of his career, winning his first premiership in 1991. However, his legend was truly forged at the back end of his career when he led the Roosters to a period of incredible dominance (4 grand finals in 5 years). Fittler’s influence was profound in that era and he stamped himself as one of the finest leaders of his generation.
In 2005, Thurston moved to the Cowboys and announced himself as a genuine superstar, leading the club to an unlikely Grand Final appearance – a remarkable achievement in his first year as a starting playmaker; unfortunately, the Cowboys went down to a Benji Marshall-inspired Wests Tigers. Since then, The Cowboys have made several finals appearance, but repeatedly fallen short at the penultimate hurdle.
At representative level, Thurston’s record stacks up well against any player in history. While Andrew Johns struggled to cement the halfback position for NSW and Australia, Thurston has been the first player picked for QLD and Australia for the best part of a decade – and has repeatedly delivered on the biggest stage. Indeed, Thurston’s representative exploits are arguably superior to the team of the century halfback, yet seemingly few consider him as Johns’ equal.
Johns, recently inducted as the eighth immortal, is the obvious comparison for Thurston. In fairness, it is often forgotten that Johns only reached two Grand Finals. Furthermore, it’s questionable whether Newcastle would have prevailed in 1997 in a full-strength competition (the star-studded Brisbane Broncos won the 1997 Super League premiership and went on to win the inaugural NRL title in 1998). Still, Newcastle’s premiership in 2001 was his competition – he was the conductor, the general, the orchestrator.
History’s greatest players have, invariably, been crucial members of premiership winning teams and Thurston’s legacy will be judged accordingly. At 31, time is running out.