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Saturday night's heroics further emphasised the influence of close friends Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos
They're the two most influential players in the game today yet the incredible bond shared between Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston was one born out of shared rejection as juniors.

Less than an hour after Smith piloted the Storm to an astonishing 20-point comeback against the Sea Eagles and then fittingly kicked the golden-point match-winning field goal on Saturday night, Thurston single-handedly dragged his Cowboys side out of a 16-point hole and carried them to a 28-22 win over the Raiders in Townsville.

They are each additional chapters in the extraordinary careers of two of the greatest players rugby league has ever seen yet as teenagers they struggled for recognition.

As they were continually overlooked for junior representative teams, Smith and Thurston were driven to go back to their respective clubs in the Brisbane junior competition, Logan Brothers and Souths Sunnybank, and work even harder on their games.

Both men admit that as young men it was difficult to come to term with such rejection but that it is something they now believe has held them in good stead throughout their careers.

"We had players in front of us that would get picked in rep teams," Thurston tells "Cam and I would often miss out on rep teams but it wasn't until later in our late teens that we started to make our mark, the both of us. It's panned out all right for the both of us," he adds, laughing that distinctive laugh of his.

"We've had a couple of chats about missing out on junior rep teams and what that meant to us both," says Smith. "I guess certainly early on it was quite hard to take because we thought that we gave our all and we certainly thought at the time that we probably deserved to be in the side but missing out probably made us work a lot harder to try and have some success in footy.

"It gave us a lot more drive and get to where we are today. We didn't really have much recognition as junior footballers as far as scholarships or anything like that went from NRL clubs or NRL systems but it's all worked out fine for us now."

Incredibly, the two men who have been so dominant in the success of Queensland and Australia representative teams over the past decade have been sharing rugby league arenas since before they were teenagers.

"I was playing for Logan Brothers and 'JT' was playing for Souths Sunnybank and I think it might have been under-10s or under-11s," Smith recalls of their first encounter. "We were playing at Sunnybank and JT had the ball, he went to throw a cut-out pass and one of my teammates took an intercept, ran about 60 metres to score under the posts and I remember looking back and JT was sitting on the ground crying, crying like a little baby.

"That showed how competitive he was and still is now and that's what's made him a first grader and a champion first grader at that."

From those early disappointments through to the unparalleled success of the current Queensland Origin side, Thurston and Smith have developed a unique bond that for much of the year is stretched out over more than 2,500 kilometres of eastern seaboard.

"He's the catalyst for everything, Smithy," Thurston says of his state and national captain. "Such a great leader, such a great friend and I often ring him for advice as well. I look up to him not only as a footballer but as a mate. He's certainly been there for me when I've needed a chat, which has been great."

Adds Smith: "He does come to me fairly often just to talk about some stuff – whether it's footy or non footy related things – and I guess that's what good mates do.

"He's one of my very, very close friends that I have, including all the guys down here in Melbourne and my friends that I've grown up with... and it's not just him who comes to me for advice. I chat to him about stuff that's going on with footy and have a chat about things he thinks I can improve if he's been watching any Storm games, but we get along really, really well."

They talk about footy, fatherhood and everything in between and you can bet at some stage this week they'll chat about how on earth they conjured such dramatic come-from-behind wins on the same night on the opening weekend of the 2014 NRL season.

They may even look ahead to when JT's Cowboys host Cam's Storm side in Round 12, just three days after Origin I in Brisbane.

There's only one subject that these close friends and champion competitors potentially clash on: Golf.

"I'll be a little bit diplomatic here; if we were both at our best, I'm the better golfer, but JT is more consistent," says Smith. "I'm giving him a rap and I'm giving myself a rap there."

Raps they both should have been getting a long time ago.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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