Happiness – it’s the reason why Johnathan Thurston is smiling, the Cowboys are thriving and their opponents are shaking in their boots each week.
In 2013, Cowboys captain ‘JT’, set to crack the 200 NRL games milestone on Monday night, claims he is happier than ever – and that positive energy is fuelling North Queensland to even greater heights this season.
Fresh from signing a new four-year contract with the Cowboys and with the imminent arrival of his first child, you can’t wipe the grin from 29-year-old Thurston’s face.
“I’m very happy, life can’t be better at the moment,” Thurston, the game’s premier playmaker who’s carved up Townsville with fullback Matt Bowen since 2005, tells NRL.com.
“I just signed a new deal so it’s great security for the next five years... my child [with long-term partner Samantha] is due in 11 weeks – it’s very exciting for me.
“Having a child has [sunk in], I can’t wait. I’m that pumped and excited, I just can’t wait for it to happen. I want it to happen now – I’m over waiting for it to come! We aren’t finding out [the sex of the baby] – we’re keeping it all a surprise – but we’re very excited.”
The biggest news out of North Queensland this year, though, has been Thurston’s re-signing at the club on a deal rumoured to be worth as much as $5 million. Combined with the retention of star props James Tamou and Matt Scott, it augers well for a very bright future for rugby league in Far North Queensland. Thurston, though, insists he isn’t playing for the money or the status – the Cowboys’ co-captain is in the sport simply for the love of the code.
“I love the game, I love competing, I love the challenges that come with it every week,” Thurston reveals.
“It doesn’t really faze me [being the game’s highest-paid player]. It’s great to be recognised in that way but it doesn’t drive me, it’s not why I turn up to training every day. It’s great to be recognised with that contract, but it’s not what drives me… I’m just very lucky to be in the position I’m in and I don’t take it for granted, that’s for sure.”
A few years ago, though, it could be argued Thurston was taking his position for granted. A prodigiously talented halfback who hadn’t reached his full potential at the time, a few off-field misdemeanors had some critics labeling Thurston a wild child, a troublemaker and someone too focused on a partying lifestyle.
The current Queensland and Australian five-eighth has worked hard in recent years to repair what was, at various stages, a poor public image, though. And he’s succeeded wonderfully, too, winning last year’s prestigious Ken Stephen Medal at the One Community Awards for his commitment to a range of community and charity initiatives, including extensive work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. He even featured on last week’s Big League cover – a ‘Goodfellas’ movie-themed front page – that highlighted ‘How NRL Bad Boys Became Captain Material’. The coming of age is something Thurston is extremely proud of, but it’s something he’s reluctant to talk about in depth, too.
“You know I wouldn’t have said I was a bad boy, but certainly I put myself in positions where I wish I could have taken them back,” Thurston admits.
“But that’s a part of growing up and over the past few years I’ve worked really hard on my image and trying to do my best and my bit for the community. I’m really enjoying it, life’s good and I couldn’t be happier.”
Rather than focus on the past – including last year’s controversial finals exit to Manly that he called “frustrating and disappointing” – Thurston wants to look to the future. His club, he believes, has the potential to do great things in 2013 and beyond.
“I think we’ve recruited really well with Scotty Moore, Rory Kostjasyn and Clint Greenshields – they’ve all been great additions to the club – and we’re a year older and we’ve learned a lot from last season and hopefully we can take that forward throughout the year,” Thurston says.
“We know it’s going to be a long year and it’s certainly going to be a tough year and you need a lot of luck along the way. We’ve got a really good squad but we know we’ve got to perform week in and week out and we’re just looking to improve each week and each game we play and if we can do that consistently throughout the year then hopefully we’re going to be somewhere around there the business end of the year.”
Thurston celebrates 200 NRL games against the Knights in Newcastle on Monday night. It’s a proud moment for the man with the game’s most destructive dummy and sublime show-’n’-go.
“As a kid you have a dream of playing just one NRL game so to achieve that is a great achievement,” Thurston admits.
“Two hundred NRL games is a nice little achievement to have and hopefully I have many more games in me.”
Now Thurston, the 24-Test and 24-Origin veteran, can look even further forward and set even more goals for this season and beyond. A premiership – to go alongside his title triumph at the Bulldogs in 2004 – is something he’s been thinking of, but ‘JT’ insists he’ll savour the moments before any potential Cowboys grand final victory just as much.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of [my career so far], it’s been a rollercoaster ride with some real highs and some real lows but I wouldn’t change it for a thing. It’s a great profession and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Thurston says.
“[Winning a title with North Queensland] is the dream of mine but you need a lot of luck along the way. Hopefully Lady Luck’s on our side.”
Judging by Thurston’s recent run of good fortune, there’s more than a good chance she will be.