Nigel Wall, NRL.com
New Indigenous All Stars captain Johnathan Thurston says he can’t wait to team up with the player who “broke his heart” in 2011 as he and coach Laurie Daley plot a revenge victory in the 2012 All Stars game.
Thurston told NRL.com that partnering new Eels recruit Chris Sandow in the halves for the first time at Skilled Park on February 4 would deliver him another memorable career highlight – after the wily halfback dealt the Cowboys a massive blow late in their race for a semi-finals berth last year.
A Sandow-inspired South Sydney defeated the Cowboys 26-24 in slippery, wet conditions at ANZ Stadium in round 24, with Thurston admitting his livewire opposite’s general-like performance that night had left him and the North Queensland side gutted.
The narrow loss, coupled with a round 26 defeat at the hands of the Warriors, thrust the Cowboys into a lethal first-week finals match-up with eventual premiers Manly.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with Chris Sandow – he certainly broke my heart in round 24 last year, so to play alongside him will be awesome,” Thurston said.
“We don’t get to play alongside a lot of these boys, so it means a lot to each person to play along these players – they are great players in their own right.
"It’s a good, fun and enjoyable week and that’s what it’s all about ... I’ve played a lot of footy with Greg (Inglis) and Hodgey (Justin Hodges) as well, so it’s going to be fun.”
Thurston said he was itching to pull on the No.6 jersey for the first time in top-level rugby league, a career move he’s hoping to make permanent.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it – I played all my junior footy at six,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played there but I’m accustomed to that role and hopefully that’s the position I’ll be playing in the future.”
Thurston said succeeding the retired Preston Campbell as captain of the Indigenous All Stars team left him filled with pride.
“I’ve taken over from Presto ... and what it means to my family and to our people and to be the captain of this side and to lead them out on the night – it’s going to be a great honour,” he said.
Thurston also said the significance of the All Stars game could not be understated.
“No doubt – when you play for your club you’re representing your community up there ... this game has so much more meaning,” he said. “You are representing your culture and your people and your family, so it’s a great concept and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“We do a lot of community work throughout – one of my favourite things is the jersey presentation that we get at the [All Stars] Festival ... that’s pretty cool and there are a lot of fans that come out and watch that.
“But also getting to speak to a few of the kids from the Youth Summit – that’s another highlight of mine, to talk about life choices and they are the next generation of our culture and hopefully we can make a difference to their lives and when they go back to their communities they can make a difference there as well.
“No doubt everyone loves Rugby League – especially our culture loves it – so hopefully one day a lot of these people can be in our shoes and play in this great game.
“It’s about making a difference in their lives so when they go back to their communities they are making the right choices to be a role model to all – to their brothers or sisters and inside their family.”
Thurston dismissed suggestions the Indigenous side would struggle for depth in the forwards again in 2012, something that contributed to their 28-12 defeat to the NRL All Stars last February.
“That’s probably where we lack a little bit but we’ll be able to cover that, we have a fair bit of experience there – Sam Thaiday can jump up front [into prop] if we need to,” he said.
“We’ll be right… hopefully we’ll get the result we want.”