Published by Peter Badel, 1 September 2018 on news.com.au
TYPICAL Johnathan Thurston. Right until his last breath in the NRL, the champion weaved his magic.
Thurston won’t finish with a premiership ring but North Queensland’s greatest player walked into retirement victorious after orchestrating a superb comeback defeat of the Titans on Saturday night at Robina.
Before a 26,681 sellout at Cbus Super Stadium, Thurston delivered his parting gift of genius, summoning every strand of his competitive fire to turn an 18-6 deficit into a 30-26 triumph in his NRL farewell.
With his good mate Cameron Smith watching on in the stands, Thurston looked to be departing a loser as the Titans led for 69 minutes, ahead 20-18.
But in his 323rd and final game, the 35-year-old magician had one last ace up his sleeve.
The Cowboys No.7 produced the cross-kick for Gavin Cooper to touch down and when Gideon Gela-Mosby took an intercept six minutes from time, Thurston had his dream ending of sorts.
Goodbye JT. After 294 games for the Cowboys, 29 for Canterbury, 38 Tests, 37 Origin matches, two premierships, four Dally M Medals and 2222 career points, the champ has left the building.
“I can’t thank the game enough for the life it’s given me,” an emotional Thurston said.
“I’m in a privileged position to play this game every week for the last 17 years.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment, but I’m looking forward to retirement.
“I’ve grown into (being a role model) and it’s something I really enjoy.
“I’m now giving back to make this world a better place.”
It is a measure of Thurston’s contribution to the code that his presence alone on Saturday night attracted an extra 15,000 fans to Cbus Super Stadium.
Thurston made a slow walk onto the Robina pitch with his three young daughters before stopping to greet wife Samantha and proud parents Debbie and Graham.
Johnathan Thurston goes out with a bang
As Thurston stopped for a family photo, his 16 Cowboys teammates each ran out in headgear. It was beautiful stuff and should have been the preamble to a Thurston masterclass, but the Titans tried to gatecrash the party.
The crowd rose as one in the seventh minute to applaud Thurston, only for Titans young gun AJ Brimson to rudely steal his thunder, slicing through for a 6-0 lead.
But Thurston, the lionheart who became great by refusing to quit, kept on punching.
Renowned for his attack, Thurston turned defensive demon in the 34th minute, picking up 110kg Ryan James and slamming him into the turf. It was the most brutal tackle of his career and it kickstarted the fightback that finished with his winning try assist.
Thanks JT. Your highlights reel is now complete.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM JT’S FAREWELL
By Travis Meyn and Peter Badel
1. JOHNATHAN Thurston has claims to being the most adored player in NRL history. It was his singular presence alone on Saturday night in his final NRL game which attracted an extra 15,000 fans to a sold-out Cbus Super Stadium. It was a remarkable show of respect from a Gold Coast public which warmly applauded a future Immortal and he got the farewell he deserved in a thrilling comeback victory.
2. THURSTON saved his best hit for last. Renowned for his attack, Thurston produced the best tackle of his career on Saturday night, crunching Titans skipper Ryan James with a bone-rattling front-on shot in the 34th minute. His highlights reel is complete.
3. IT will be a battle of the Bens for the Cowboys No. 1 jersey next year. Ben Hampton rounded out the best season of his career on Saturday night with two tries, but will face a challenge from Ben Barba when the 2012 Dally M champion returns from the Super League.
4. TITANS rookie AJ Brimson is one of the best young players in the NRL. Brimson, 19, could have been a serious contender for Dally M rookie-of-the-year honours if he had played more than 15 games this season. He will be one to watch next season.
5. THE Titans could finish the season as low as 15th on the ladder in what has been a typical year for the Gold Coast. The Titans conceded 582 points this season, far too many to be a finals contender. That has been the club’s biggest problem for a long time and coach Garth Brennan has to find some answers next year.
NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (B Hampton 2 G Cooper S Fensom G Gela-Mosby tries J Thurston 5 goals) bt GOLD COAST 26 (A Brimson K Elgey B Lee M Rein tries A Taylor 5 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Matt Noyen. Crowd: 26,681