Thaiday reveals why he knocked back Cowboys
Sam Thaiday has revealed how he knocked back lucrative offers to join North Queensland - the club he wanted to play for as a youth - as he prepares to become the third Bronco to play 300 games at the club.
The 33-year-old forward will join Darren Lockyer (355 games) and Corey Parker (349) as the only Brisbane 300-gamers, fittingly in Townsville, the city where he grew up wanting to be a Cowboy.
"You couldn't have scripted it this way. It is just amazing how it has worked out to play my 300th game in Townsville, where football and the love of football started for me," Thaiday said.
"I can still remember sitting on the hill as a kid with my dad and older brother watching the first [Cowboys] game in 1995. I can still remember selling Big League magazines out the front so I could get a free ticket to watch the Cowboys play. I was a Brothers junior, which is just out the back of the stadium.
"I am going to have a lot of friends and family there, and a lot of mates who were the guys who encouraged me to play footy, sitting in the crowd as well."
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The only problem is that Thaiday has his work cut out deciding who to invite. His ticket allocation is limited to just 20 for a game he's had circled ever since learning during the pre-season he was on target to reach the 300-game milestone in Townsville.
Thaiday was told as a youngster that the Cowboys did not have the funds to sign him up. That changed as his career unfolded, but he resisted attempts to lure him back to Townsville.
"There had been a couple of offers throughout my career to go back home but I have made Brisbane home and all my connections down here," he said.
"Even though it would have been a great decision money wise, for the benefit of my football and playing career it was good to stay here.
"There were bigger offers from a lot of different clubs but playing at the Broncos with some of the best staff and best players was going to be better for my football than chasing money."
Thaiday can still recall the carpark in Townsville where former Broncos recruiters Cyril Connell and Paul Bunn gave him a pair of football boots as a sign-on bonus, a moment that still resonates.
"I didn't quite believe it at first. The Broncos were a team I always loved watching, right from the early 1990s," he said.
"I probably didn't think I was going to play first grade at first because we had too many good forwards here, but that worked in my favour when all the boys were out for Origin. I got my chance to debut and once I had a taste I wanted more."
There have been some tough times since, including when he was asked by former coach Anthony Griffin to stand down from the captaincy role he held dear.
"That was a very, very tough time in my career and made me question a few things, whether I wanted to be here and whether I wanted to stay here," he said.
"I stayed true to my values and stayed loyal to the club, and I'm glad I have."
Thaiday was asked what it was like the day he announced he was stepping down of his own volition, and whether he felt "muzzled".
"It is always hard, and if you look back on that I still think I said it in my own little way and jokingly said that it was raining that day and Brisbane was crying for me," he said.
"Hopefully with the game in Townsville the monsoons will open up and it will start raining up there …and Townsville will start crying for me."
Thaiday said he held no grudges against Griffin, who was relieved of his coaching duties at Penrith on Monday four weeks out from the finals.
"He had to make some tough decisions himself. He was probably fighting for his own job and trying to find some answers. We are fine now," he said.
Thaiday said a highlight of his career was the 2006 premiership, the club's sixth and most recent title.
"I think I was a bit naïve back then as a 21-year-old," he said.
"With the team we had I thought [premierships] would come often but it just shows in rugby league first and foremost how hard it is to get there, and how hard it is to win one."
Thaiday, who recently penned his autobiography, will play his 300th premiership match against close friend Johnathan Thurston in the final on-field meeting between the duo.
Thurston also has a book coming out on his own career, which began in the NRL just one season before Thaiday arrived.
"Our careers have run parallel for a long period of time and we are retiring at the same time," Thaiday said.
"I beat him on getting the book out first though, so that's a one-up for me. Hopefully, we can get another one-up for me on Thursday night. It is going to be great to share a great moment with a great friend."