On the eve of Johnathan Thurston’s final State of Origin series, Inside Sport asked Fox League’s Mark Gasnier, Justin Hodges and Cooper Cronk to talk shop about arguably the best rugby league player of all time.
The legendary Thurston, who appears on the cover of the just-released June 2017 edition of Inside Sport, has been the subject of much adoration across his brilliant career, with the general consensus being: gees, he’s a great player, isn’t he?
Yep, he is - but being Inside Sport, we wanted to break this statement down. What makes him so great? How can a player keep performing at such a high level for so long? What does he do so differently to other playmakers?
For Inside Sport’s eight-page feature story titled Thurston For Dummies, St George-Illawarra Dragons, New South Wales and Kangaroos stalwart Mark Gasnier recalls a horror memory the Blues still retain of a young Johnathan Thurston: it was Game III, 2006.
“It was one win apiece, and we’d gone down to Docklands in Melbourne for the decider. We were up 14-4 with ten minutes to go. Pre-game as a group, we’d reminded ourselves and each other: whatever you do, no dummies from Johnathan Thurston. It was only his second Origin series, but we knew he was a threat. We identified it. Don’t take any dummies. So sure enough, late in the game off a set play: Thurston, BANG. From their 20m line a dummy, then a step, straight through the line and Brent Tate scores under the posts.”
For Thurston For Dummies, JT’s Origin halves partner and veteran Melbourne Storm number seven Cooper Cronk gets technical about the differences in Thurston’s roles with Queensland, Australia and the North Queensland Cowboys.
“In terms of the contrast, Johnathan at North Queensland is the prime ballplayer. He’s the guy who contributes and influences the play, whereas for Queensland and Australia, we have equal ballplaying ability, so you do the traditional version where the fullback is the quicker guy out the back of shape, putting the wingers away to a point. It’s more of a coaching strategy as opposed to an individual strength, as such.”
A major beneficiary of Thurston’s ballplaying wizardry over the years has been Broncos and Maroons legend Justin Hodges. For Thurston For Dummies, he shares the special on-field connection he had with JT, especially when a try beckoned for the Maroons.
“A lot of us had and have played with him for a long period of time for Queensland and Australia,” Hodges says. “Obviously you watch his games: every time you play against the Cowboys you studied him, watched him. He was a guy we knew well. At the end of the day, if you ran your line, he’d always find you. He knew what line I was going to take; always knew where I wanted to get to. Nine times out of ten the ball would be there for me.”
Catch the full eight-page feature story Thurston For Dummies in the current State of Origin Special Edition of Inside Sport, on sale now.
(Header image by Getty Images)