Thurston honoured to fulfil Murray's legacy
It couldn't have been more fitting that North Queensland's greatest ever player won the medal named after the man who set them on the path to success in the game where they officially became the best rugby league club on the planet.
Clive Churchill medallist, three-time Golden Boot winner, Dally M Player of the Year a stunning four times, and now a premiership- and World Club Challenge-winning captain, Johnathan Thurston's rise to greatness coincided with his move north to team up with then-Cowboys coach, the late and great Graham Murray.
The North Queensland club's rise to greatness coincided with the recruitment of Murray in 2002.
Thurston said Murray took a club that had been essentially broken to their first finals campaign in 2004 then their first decider a year later, and would be proud to see the club achieve world domination in early 2016.
While it's a tragedy Murray is not with us to see that legacy fulfilled, Thurston said it was a great tribute that the player of the match medal in the World Club Challenge (Murray also coached North Queensland's vanquished WCC opponents Leeds with great success) was named after him.
"He's had a big influence on both clubs with Leeds as well and he obviously took the Cowboys to their first ever grand final appearance, so to win the Graham Murray Medal was an award I'm extremely proud to have," Thurston told NRL.com at the 2016 NRL season launch.
"I'm extremely proud [to have carried on his legacy]. He came to the club when it was – you could say it was broken really.
"He had a massive influence on turning the club into the powerhouse that it is today. He was a well respected coach and most of all he was just a really good bloke and a great man."
In typical Thurston fashion, the humble 32-year-old credited his teammates for his own dominance in the 38-4 thumping of Super League champions Leeds.
"I couldn't have done it without my teammates. I thought our middle third were outstanding," Thurston said.
"James Tamou's stint in the first half I think was nearly 35 minutes... I thought Benny Hannant was outstanding off the bench as well racking up some metres for us. It's a medal I'm extremely proud to have."
In addition to winning every individual award the game has to offer – many of them multiple times – Thurston now has every team trophy going, including World Cup and Four Nations titles in addition to winning everything on offer with his club and state.
Asked what keeps driving him now he's achieved everything the game has to offer, Thurston said: "It's not the individual accolades; it's the team success that drives me".
"It's being able to look my teammates in the eye and not letting them down, for me. With that comes responsibility to make sure I prepare the best that I can. That's what's driving me now is preparing the best that I can for the 16 other blokes that I run out beside and they're the ones I don't want to let down."
The Cowboys get their 2016 season campaign underway at home against Cronulla next Saturday night.