Bennett admits Broncos 'mistake' in not signing Thurston
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has outlined the "mistake" the club made when it did not sign retiring champion halfback Johnathan Thurston back when he was a teenager.
Thurston, who will play the final home game of his career for the Cowboys against the Eels on Friday night, had starred for the Queensland under-17 side when the Broncos had the opportunity to sign him.
The knock on Thurston at the time was that he was too slow, too small and too wild.
Canterbury's recruitment manager Mark Hughes at the time saw the competitive streak and football smarts in the young Thurston after other clubs had passed up the opportunity to sign him.
NRL.com asked Bennett at his weekly press conference about the Broncos missing out on Thurston when he was a teenager, and his regret was palpable.
"He would have made a real difference here but it didn't happen. It was probably our fault more than anybody else's that we didn't recruit him at the time," Bennett said.
"We obviously made a mistake.
"I went and saw him play once and I thought he was pretty good but everybody else told me around me that they didn't think he would be the halfback that we needed here.
"I listened to them because they had seen a lot more of him than I had seen of him, and then he went to Canterbury."
Thurston, who played his junior football at Souths-Sunnybank in Brisbane, has been off contract on several occasions since joining North Queensland in 2005 but the Broncos have missed out on his signature on each occasion.
The August 15, 2012 edition of Rugby League Week magazine reported how the Broncos, when Anthony Griffin was the coach, had decided to target Thurston when he came off contract at the end of 2013.
The following year Thurston travelled to Broncos HQ and met with the Broncos after the champion half had said he was keen to explore "all options" ahead of his next big deal.
Brisbane, for reasons that have never been explained adequately, did not end up making Thurston an offer.
Thurston's manager Sam Ayoub said at the time that the Broncos "went cold" on his star client.
Thurston eventually signed a four-year deal to remain at the Cowboys.
Bennett did not have the chance to have another crack at Thurston when he returned to Brisbane at the end of 2014, with the Australian and Queensland half already contracted long-term to North Queensland.
The Broncos coach said Thurston had ultimately made the right decision to play out his career in Townsville.
"He has done the right thing and finished his career up there," Bennett said.
"He will always have a career after football, which is what you want for them."
Bennett has said on several occasions that Thurston has been as influential at the Cowboys as the great Allan Langer was at the Broncos.
He said he was surprised at the Cowboys' current last-place position on the ladder but added it was not for any lack of effort or performance on Thurston's part.
"It is just a bit weird to think that he is playing up there tonight and they are playing down the bottom of the competition," Bennett said.
"That is the weirdest thing that has happened this season as far as I can work out. I can't work out why the Cowboys are in that position.
"[Thurston] is still a great player and still plays his heart out every week. There are a lot of players there helping him but it just hasn't been their year."